Made in the USA

Deciding to ride a bicycle for transportation in a place like the US, after years of driving a car everywhere like everyone else, required that I step back and really question the system that I’d accepted all my life.  Through this, I realized the absurdity of using a ton of metal to carry myself a couple of miles.   This one change has naturally led to reconsidering other aspects of modern society.

Fresh on my mind, following Black Friday, is consumerism.  I love a good sale and I am far from a minimalist, with my collections of tchotchkes and overflowing bookshelves, but I feel that objects I bring into my home should have meaning and reflect my beliefs.  I do not always live up to this standard, but I’ve been making a conscious effort to buy clothing that was made in the USA or another country known for craftsmanship and decent working conditions, like the UK, France, Italy and Canada.  I know this is a complicated issue and many lives are improved by factory jobs overseas, but I personally feel better spending my money in a way that does not support corporations’ race to the bottom.  (See “Garment Workers Stage Angry Protest After Bangladesh Fire” and the Clean Clothes Campaign.)  Of course, I am lucky enough to have the time and resources for this, but so do most Americans.  No one is perfect (I’m typing this on an Apple computer, with its Foxconn manufacturing issues, after all) but that should not stop us from thinking about the issue and making small changes where we can.

Finding products that fit my criteria is, unfortunately, harder than it sounds, but prevents me from buying a lot of crap – avoiding fast fashion and focusing on quality over quantity.  And over time, I’ve built quite a nice collection.  Last Friday, I realized that everything I was wearing was made in the USA.  This made me happy.  :-)

My silk blouse and wool skirt are by Steven Alan, boots by Samantha Pleet for Wolverine (a birthday present), tights by Commando (the most comfortable ever), underthings by All USA Clothing, and earrings by Chic Gems.

(Hint on Steven Alan: twice a year he has online sample sales.  The fall sale just ended, unfortunately.  My skirt was $30 marked down from $225!)

As Mr. Dottie pointed out, the only exception to the outfit above is me: made in Germany.  And here is my wonderful mother who made me, visiting Chicago for Thanksgiving.  :-)

In regards to bicycles, I have one made in the Netherlands, one in Germany, and one in Taiwan.  As much as I absolutely love my Betty Foy in every way, part of me wishes that I saved my money longer to buy a made in the USA frame, like a Sweetpea or ANT.

How do you feel about this issue?  Do you have any shopping rules to counter thoughtless consumerism?

If you have tips on favorite businesses that manufacture in the USA, please share in the comments!

{p.s. another good way to shop – and cut down on waste – is to go for vintage style with secondhand savvy.}

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25 thoughts on “Made in the USA

  1. Andrea@ThatllDoFarm says:

    I’m on an anti-Black Friday campaign — the early a.m. rush to BUY, BUY, BUY, on the heels of a day devoted to giving thanks for what we already have doesn’t really make sense to me. Heck, the turkey wasn’t even cold yet and the big box stores were open selling products that, for the most part, were made elsewhere. As a small-scale farmer and fiber producer, this year I’m on a mission to show people they can shop small, shop local. Thanks for highlighting American made products.

  2. eriksandblom says:

    I had some old formal wear in the closet I decided to take to a seamstress (seamster?). It’s fun to give new life to things I haven’t worn in a long time. Things need to be let out, taken in and dry cleaned.

    Formal wear is often suitable for bicycling because it’s made of wool and viscose, which are materials that breathe well. And the flat seams in formal trousers are comfortable against the saddle.

  3. Lauren says:

    Have you read “Overdressed” by Elizabeth Cline? It’s basically the “Fast Food Nation” for clothing… seriously eye-opening. I just finished it over the weekend (ripped through it, to be honest), and while I’ve been uncomfortable with imports and fast fashion for the past few years, it really resonated with me and nailed down all the reasons why I try to stay away from that kind of consumerism. I think you’d find the book very interesting!

    I try to buy USA-made whenever I can – which isn’t often, since so much of our stuff is imported now (and what is made here is more than I can currently afford). Most of what I end up wearing is handmade or vintage. If everyone made even small changes to their buying habits, it would make such an impact on the big picture.

    • LGRAB says:

      I wish I could make my own awesome clothes, like you! I suppose I could learn at least how to make simple skirts, if I put my mind to it. :)

      I heard about Overdressed, but have not read it yet. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • LGRAB says:

      I wish I could make my own awesome clothes, like you! I suppose I could learn at least how to make simple skirts, if I put my mind to it. :)

      I heard about Overdressed, but have not read it yet. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. There are so many issues wrapped into this. I’ve tried to write about it before, but it’s just too complicated for me. So I’ve started to ignore the whole holiday. Had a private celebration on Thanksgiving. Didn’t buy a thing on Black Friday. Enough.

  5. Adam Herstein says:

    “Made in the USA” does not always imply quality. There is plenty of crap made here as well. In addition, many frames are made in Taiwan despite claims of the bike being “made in the USA”.

  6. Angela Diaz says:

    I’ve been saving for a pair of Wolverine’s from the 1,000 Mile Collection. Are their boots everything people say they are? Since the pair I want are almost 500 bucks, it has prevented me from buying tons of cheap shoes all year long. Plus they had better last me forever like they claim they will.

    • LGRAB says:

      I’ve had my Wolverines for only a month and a half, so I cannot speak directly about longevity. But I can tell you that the quality is *very*high, the leather is starting to break in quite nicely, they are extremely
      comfortable (I walked all around London and Paris in them), and go with almost everything (I’m wearing them to work today with a silk blouse, tweed pencil skirt, and tights). I consider these forever boots, so I’m going to take care of them and get a rubber protective sole put on by the cobbler; the heel already has one. Other than a pair of hiking boots, I have not bought any other shoes in years. I’m totally with you on rejecting a bunch of cheap shoes in favor of a few lasting ones that are worth repairing as time goes on.

  7. Fred Smith says:

    I think we have the same thing here in the UK – unless you want a folding bike or a traditional bike it’s almost certainly made abroad. I guess we’ve been left behind compared to most of Europe.

    I’m oddly tempted to buy a Pashley, usually I don’t go for that kind of thing.

  8. Fred Smith says:

    I think we have the same thing here in the UK – unless you want a folding bike or a traditional bike it’s almost certainly made abroad. I guess we’ve been left behind compared to most of Europe.

    I’m oddly tempted to buy a Pashley, usually I don’t go for that kind of thing.

  9. David P. says:

    Good post. I do like made in the USA (MUSA) but don’t insist on it. Sometimes I can’t afford it! And sometimes I treat the choice like I treat eating meat – I’d rahter have less high-quality, more-expensive meat than more supermarket meat. And like Velouria, I do think that this is not as simple an issue as it might seem. As far as the country of origian of your Betty Foy, I don’t see any compromise in a good Taiwanese-made frame. Taiwan today is perhaps like Japan 20 years ago when it comes to frame building. Of course it is not MUSA so it doesn’t meet that criterion, but it is not the same as buying a super-cheap mass-produced frame from the PRC.

    As far as MUSA products go, I’ll give a thumbs-up to Bicycle Fixation clothes. I’ve not used their knickers, but I’ve got one of their t-shirts and it’s terrific. Made in LA by people making a living wage. Obviously it’s not cheap, but even overseas-production merino seldom is. Granted, this is more relevant to male readers than female ones, but the t-shirt is unisex. Also in California (Berkeley, I think) is Nan Eastep’s B Spoke Tailor – gorgeous designed-for-cycling wool clothing.

  10. Timothy says:

    Two main issues – I think. Some of our best human values are not amenable to the assignment of a dollar value. Consumerism warps and de emphasizes these social values. Our lives are thereby cheapened.

    Buying American is not always the same as buying thoughtfully or buying quality. We create much of the world around us by our spending choices – and you folks at LGRAB and Lovely Bicycle absolutely advance a better world. That said, focusing on “buy American” too exclusively also contains a danger of creating inefficiency or reducing the trade that humanizes and improves the world too.

    Best wishes and thank you both for your work.

    • LGRAB says:

      Thank you. A few people have mentioned that buying made in the USA does not guarantee quality. I agree. I only buy stuff that is made in the USA*and * high quality.

      My biggest reason for valuing made in the USA products is that I know American workers are protected by strong laws. OSHA, FLSA, Title VII, etc. I do not know enough about labor laws and manufacturing practices in overseas factories to set my mind at ease – see the fire at the Bangladesh factory that produces Wal-mart clothing (no emergency exits).

  11. Lin Brand says:

    Ibex is made in the US and they all bring their dogs to work, too. They had me at “dog”, though.
    You can find their off season stuff on sale online. Nothing beats merino. 90% of what I buy is available through US manufacturers, it’s just a limited selection. The other 10% has to be what I perceive as a necessity (no one makes microwave ovens in the US under $600). Buy less, buy US made/built, and create less waste as well. Great article.

  12. Girls Biking to Work says:

    I adore my Duluth Pack Shell bag, AND they now make bike-specific bags. Still made by hand in Northern Minnesota, and mine looks like new after 2 years of using it to haul around my U-lock and everything else.

    • LGRAB says:

      Ah! I didn’t know that Duluth Pack made bike bags now. I grew up in Duluth and my aunt went to high school and is still good friends with half of the couple who runs it. They definitely make great stuff.

      ~T

  13. Christina says:

    I often try to buy from countries where the product was made in humane conditions (with the best of our ability to determine so) but have to balance that mindset with our actual budget and the use of the item. For example, running shoes to me are very specific and I can’t place country of origin higher in value compared to the actual need I have for specific marathon trainer. However, a wonderful shoe that I would wear for years to walk in or be stylish in, I can place country of origin as a higher value when making a purchase. Same with a bicycle, since I bicycle for transportation/leisure and not sport, I could place country of origin as a higher value in that particular shopping purchase. I find it is very time consuming to be a consumer in today’s society and those of us who are interested in being wise consumers still have to make a lot of compromises. I did notice when I was last in Germany over the summer, a lot of the goods in the stores still said “Made in Germany”. :)

    • LGRAB says:

      That makes sense. Sometimes the best item or the product we need is simply not made locally. You’re right that being a thoughtful consumer is SO time consuming and necessarily involves compromises when applying abstract beliefs to the reality of the marketplace and budgets.

  14. Miriam says:

    Great post! As an attorney whose job is going to be outsourced to the Philippines next year in order to produce lower-quality services at cheaper prices (and less wages on the part of the employer), I would encourage everyone to take the “buy local” mentality a step further and advocate for local, high quality products AND services as well! This who problem isn’t just about “stuff” we buy. Jobs are being shed daily because clients refuse to put a foot down and demand a higher quality product or service, especially if it comes at a higher cost than a lower quality overseas product or service. Similarly, within organizations, jobs are being lost while earnings at the top are not being addressed.

    Maybe instead of obsessing over slashing prices and “having it all”, we can simply buy less and demand quality in return with the money we save. It wasn’t so long ago that if you couldn’t afford a thing, you just didn’t buy it. But in today’s world of credit, and cheap overseas knock-off products and services, we can have our cake and eat it too. But ultimately our “have it all” mentality is harming us, and hopefully we can wake up and realize it before it is too late.

    • I’ve had the very same thoughts about buying local and paying a little more vs. focusing on getting the best deal. I don’t shop at Walmart for that very reason. On top of Walmart just being a very unpleasant shopping experience, the company is so focused on profits at the top that their employees can’t earn a living wage, many needing to apply for SNAP and Medicaid for basic needs, all the while being subject to the judgment of other who assume that they just don’t want to work. When I lived in Louisville, I was a regular customer of Keith’s Hardware. I probably paid a little more than at Home Depot but Keith’s staff never seems to turn over, provide consistent hands on customer service to virtually every person who walks through the door, and always found an answer to my most perplexing home improvement questions. It was so nice to patronize a small business that seemed to care about their community.

  15. RonB says:

    Thanks for the article. I hope that the wave continues to build, where we value honest labor, true management, and products made with and for lasting value. Also, your attitude of a lifestyle that contributes to these values, which are a hallmark of universal integrity. I find so many of my countrymen burdened by the consumption that they place themselves under and the disappointment they face when these choices reveal their true value! Thanks again for your post!

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