Archive for December, 2008

Where the printed material we buy is manufactured is not something that I think most people concern themselves with. However, these days, if you look, you’ll find that many of the printed products that you buy are actually printed in China. Most of us take it for granted that printed material is made domestically, but that is not the case at all.

I’ve personally come across a worrying trend of increased printing in China of greeting cards and children’s books. As of 2004, annual US sales of greeting cards totaled $7.5 billion, with Hallmark and American Greetings taking the lion’s share of that figure, so we’re talking about some real money here. In my perusal of greeting cards over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that a lot of them are being printed in China. It seems like roughly half. I don’t recall seeing that prior to 5-10 years ago. It seems that this is occurring particularly with greeting cards that are constructed of multiple parts. If you see a card covered in cellophane with little cutout paper flowers and metallic paper, for example, odds are that it is manufactured in China. Since I try to buy greeting cards made in USA, I always look on the back of the card to make sure. The good thing is that the country of origin is always stated on the back.

Children’s books, unfortunately is an area where American printers have capitulated to the Chinese. It’s really quite sad. When buying board books for my baby daughter, I could not find any printed here, and most were from China. There are still a few publishers printing other kinds of children’s books here. I happened to find Golden Books at the Toys R US near my house that were really cheap and printed in the USA! My wife and I recently went to a book sale at the Culver City public library. We loaded up on children’s books there for $1 a piece. Many of these older books were printed in the USA. So here is what I recommend:it is better to buy used books than to buy new imported books. If American publishers don’t want to print board books in the US, let them eat dirt! Boycott their books! You can buy excellent used board books so that these companies don’t make a dime off you. Reward publishers, such as Golden Books, that continue to print here by buying only their books.

A friend of mine owns a small printing and publishing business in Culver City, called Playa Digital. It’s a small business, not a major corporation. When we recently got together, I brought up the subject of the importation of printed material. She became so choked up with emotion over it! Her business lives or dies by the choices that average consumers like you and I make. If you decide to patronize the products of importers, you are driving your friends and neighbors who print in this country out of business. It’s time to draw a line in the sand and take a stand! Demand that any printed products you buy are Made in USA!

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Check out this story on the Serious Sports Network!

Brett Favre ruining Jets’ gift exchange with “buy American” obsession

Brett might just be as obsessed as I am about buying American. He feels a debt to this country, especially as privileged as he is. He has pride and wants to put his dollars to work for America! Check out the story.

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I was recently in need of some martial arts equipment.  I practice Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) and wanted to buy some workout equipment for home.  I needed a heavy bag for punching and kicking, so I looked online.  I had previously bought Everlast boxing gloves (made in China for $20) and shin guards (also made in China for $20) and despaired completely of finding anything made in USA in this realm.  A Google search for Muay Thai equipment brought up a Craigslist listing for Bilt Tuff.  They said in an email that they have all sorts of martial arts equipment, and the prices were reasonable.  I emailed to ask where they had their products manufactured, but they said that they manufacture their own, right here in LA!!  I was beside myself.  Also, their heavy bags were very reasonably priced – around $80-150.  

So I made a special trip out to Alhambra on a weekend day to avoid the traffic.  I was quite impressed – one of the owners was at the shop and knew all the products well.  He knew what was made in USA and what wasn’t.  I felt good about spending my money there.  I bought a large heavy bag for $125 which included straps on top and bottom.  I also got a punching bag and a sandbag to attach the punching bag to.  The sandbag was also made in USA but the punching bag was made in Pakistan.  There were other things that I eyed there too, such as their Thai kicking pads and bag gloves, which they also manufacture.  All told, I spent a little over $200 and most of that was on American products.  They also warranty the product they manufacture for 10 years!  Way to go Bilt Tuff!  

It’s because American consumers have allowed their dollars to flow overseas that we have become poorer as a nation.  When we choose to give our cash to those who give it back to us in the form of wages for American employees, we maintain our collective wealth.  Even in an area as unexpected to be American-made as martial arts equipment, I was able to find, through diligent searching, a quality, low-priced American manufacturer.  

By the way, I have had the equipment a couple of weeks now.  I use it frequently and am very happy with my purchase!

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My wife likes to buy clothes from Bluefly.com. They carry various designers, around 150 in all. Most of the designers on there do not make their clothes in the US. However, there are several that do. Since my wife has been infected with the same Buy-Made-in-USA fervor that I have, she has restricted her buying from there to those designers that make their clothes in this country. The 3 designers that she has found on Bluefly that she likes and that make their clothes here are Rebecca Beason, Zooey, and Jake’s Dry Goods. These designers aren’t exclusive to Bluefly, but they have a lot of good deals and they provide free return shipping for returns, no questions asked.
So it’s definitely possible to buy made in the USA clothes online. It takes a lot of diligence. You have to stick to websites that state where each product is made. If it doesn’t say where it’s made, then assume it’s made elsewhere.  Don’t expect to find it among big-name designers, such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, or Coach.  They have sold out their workers for $ a long time ago.  They should change Calvin Klein to Guangdong Klein to be more accurate about where his stuff is made.

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I’ve been a fan of buying made in usa jeans probably longer than anything else. One reason is that, living in LA, there are lots of little designers and factories turning out great local product here. I probably became fixated on buying only American jeans in 2004.  I usually do my clothes-shopping on Melrose Place in the West Hollywood area. Most people imagine that this area is very upscale and expensive. That’s not quite true. There are of course some very high end boutiques, but there are also lots of small mom and pop boutiques that may have their own production or work closely with several designer/producers. So, unlike the big department stores or “Tar-Mart” made-in-Chinaville, you are often dealing directly with the owners and sometimes the designers of the clothes or at least people closely associated with the makers of the clothes. One of my favorite places is Couture. I think they have their own factory because they sell only their own label, which is entirely made in Los Angeles. They have everything from jeans, T-shirts, long-sleeves, jackets, to even velvet trench coats. I usually get the more conservative things there, but if you’re a rockandrolla you would feel right at home there. They had a sale there last summer and I got their $120 jeans for $10 each!!
Anyway, let me get to the crux of this posting. I had gone shopping a few months ago on Melrose, looking for some new jeans and a couple of other things. I thought I had lost my favorite Venom jeans (really cool looking, kind of like True Religion, but better), so I wanted to find a replacement. I stumbled upon a different store that was selling Mek denim. I asked the salesman if the jeans were made in USA and he insisted they were. Now I have learned not to trust salespeople on this topic for the following reasons:
1) they usually don’t know
2) they usually don’t care, unless it’s Italian
3) they’ll happily lie to get you to buy the product.
So I looked for the tag. Strangely, I couldn’t find the tag for where it was made. However, the main label said, “Mek USA.” Surely this meant that I couldn’t go wrong. I expressed my reservations to the salesman and he made me a deal by lowering the price to $90 from $160 just to get me to buy them. I bit. I took them home, feeling very good about them and drove straight to a tailor to get them altered.
I got the jeans back a week later, looking good, fitting well. When I got them home, I examined them, and, to my horror, found a tiny, see-through label deep inside the pant seam on the right that said “made in China.” I was so mad! The jeans could no longer be returned, since they had been altered. I swore I would never go to that store again and would be much more careful and less gullible in the future. If this happened to me, as obsessive as I am, I think that the average person would be much more easily swayed. As a karmic twist, I found my Venom jeans a few days later (they had been missing for over a month).
I do wear the Mek jeans occasionally, but I don’t feel good about them. I think that this kind of feeling about the products we buy reflects a radical change in consumer consciousness in this country. Previously, we were happy with a shiny new product and were pleased as long as it worked well and was a good value. Now, we are on the upslope of a reversal of this sort of thinking. Now, more and more people don’t feel good about a product unless it also appeals to their moral sense. So this now includes for me where a product is made, how green its manufacture is (how much energy is used and how much waste is generated), and even the moral prestige of the owners or producers of the product. Steve Jobs is definitely scoring points with the new macbook in its inherent quality as well as the fact that it is a much more eco-manufactured computer. Now, if he only championed American manufacturing, people like me would look up to him like Obama. So listen to you moral sense when you are shopping and don’t believe the salesmen!

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The automotive bailout is currently in the news. What I find interesting is the hostility with which bailing out a mismanaged, money-losing auto-manufacturing sector is looked at, in comparison with the urgency and do-or-die attitude to bailing out a mismanaged, money-losing financial industry. Now, I’m not a fan of the corporate governance of either industry. I think that they’re both rife with corruption and short-term greed. I think that most of the responsible crew needs to be stripped of their personal assets and spend some serious jail time. Perhaps these companies should be placed into receivership. However, I find it odd that Congress and Bush so eagerly throw hundreds of billions of dollars at the financial behemoths but stomp their feet so much at the 15 billion to bailout our single most important manufacturing sector.

I’m not sure that bailouts are a good idea in themselves.  Maybe they’re a bad idea.  Maybe bankruptcy is better.  The answer to that question is beyond my expertise.  I don’t think that the American public has been properly educated by those making these decisions, so the truth may come out later.  However,  I do believe that this country cannot survive without a manufacturing base.  If we want to keep from sinking into a third world status of a country such as Bolivia or Nigeria, then we need to take firm and proactive steps to increase the competitiveness of our manufacturers at home and overseas.

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Not all purchases we make come out of our personal pockets.  Some of the biggest purchases we have a deciding factor in are not ones we directly pay for.  The best example are purchasing decisions we make at work.  This ranges from deciding what post-it notes to buy at the office to choosing an engineering firm to build your next nuclear power plant.  Since the money doesn’t come out of our own pockets we often take a lackadaisical attitude about the country of origin of the product.  Yet these are precisely the times where it is critical to raise your voice and speak out on behalf of the American economy.

Typically, budget decisions in corporations and government are made in groups, often through multiple layers of management.  You may remember the recent controversy over the aerial refueling tanker contract that was awarded to Airbus.  Another example was a recent acquisition of an ultrasound machine by my hospital’s emergency department.  The ultrasound manufacturer that I had the most contact with and got the most recommendations for from others was Sonosite.  It also happened to be not only designed but also manufactured in USA (presumable of international components, but that’s about as good as it gets these days).  The competitors were Ultrasonix, a Canadian maker, and Aloka, which is either Korean or Japanese.  I had a strong bias in favor of the Sonosite, partly due to its being made in USA.  However, we also directly compared the machines to make sure our choice was the best in overall quality.  The Aloka did not stand up to the other two in image quality, so we nixed that one.  The Ultrasonix was very good and had some advantages and disadvantages compared to the Sonosite.  It was nearly a draw between the two.  For me, that made it an easy decision, since the tipping issue was the country of origin of the machine.

Likewise, at Tattoo MD Laser Clinic, the decision to buy lasers is not just based on cost and quality.  The country of origin is also important.  Therefore, when we bought our tattoo removal laser from Hoya ConBio, the fact that it is made in California was definitely a deciding factor, even though there were cheaper imported lasers available on the market.  However, its quality is definitely the highest among available tattoo removal lasers.

To sum up, you have more economic power than just individual consumer power.  You have capital purchasing decision-making power (that you may not even realize you have).  Maybe your boss makes all the purchasing decisions, but bosses listen to their employees’ opinions too.  So champion American products in every business purchasing decision!  We can reclaim our economy one purchasing at a time!

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