It started one afternoon when a friend and I swung into JCPenny to pick up some socks. For a pack of six, prices ranged from $15-$18 dollars. The more expensive ones were made in the US, but he encouraged me to “save some money, man”, suggesting I buy the lower priced set. We began reading the packaging and discovered that production facilities were mostly in China, Mexico and the US.
Since my friend is in business for himself, I asked him if he’d like to have more shoppers at his store.
“Of course I would”.
“Do you think that the Chinese workers who have made the inexpensive socks are going to come and shop at your store?”
“Probably not, but where are the American made socks produced? I doubt that those workers are here in Ohio”.
He’s a smart guy and he enjoys playing the devil’s advocate, and we started the debate, while looking at the tags of other items in the store. Almost all of the men’s summer shorts were made in Bangladesh or China. Shirts from China or India. Socks seemed to be the only thing we could find in JCPenney’s men’s department that were made in the US.
We had a look in some of the specialty stores, one or two of which are locally owned, and again, China, Bangladesh and India. Virtually everything in these Columbus-headquarted shops comes from overseas. It’s not just Ohio clothiers; it’s all of them. The quality of these garments is so-so. Certainly nothing that’s expected to last more than one or two seasons, or until the first button falls off.
Look around any Columbus shopping center, at any public gathering, any weekend barbeques, at any civic event or festival, and you’ll see thousands of dollars, perhaps millions of dollars of spent supporting other country’s workers. Workers who are not able to dine at our restaurants, stay at our hotels, visit our theaters, buy our art, nor have they’re plumbing or roofs repaired by us.
My friend said that it seems as if we’re obligated to buy these things.
“We’re not obligated”, I remarked.
“Oh yes we are. When we look through the racks of what to buy, do we really have a choice? No. In that case, yes, we are obligated”.
Might it not be a tremendous shame that while the ads for happy youth and gleeful Americans fill the windows of our local shops, few, if any Americans, are the beneficiaries of our basic need to clothe ourselves? Next time we find ourselves saying the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem with our hands over our hearts, the shirt on which it rests is likely supporting another country’s economy.
There is a kernel of optimism in all of this. As energy costs increase, producing consumer goods 15,000 miles away will eventually become cost-ineffective. But until then, there are options.
In the Short North you’ll find American Apparel, where the clothing sold is made in Los Angles by well paid, insured workers. And closer to home, in Arcanum, Ohio, the Union Jean Company offers a wide array of casual clothing produced by American workers.
With Columbus’ fantastic location and access to the majority of the US population, maybe the city should be luring the garment industry. Sure, New York has theirs, but the costs of production here would be less expensive. If Wal-Mart can fly in their eyeglass prescriptions to Rickenbacker to reduce production costs, a similar model could be applied to the apparel industry.