Why Buy "Made in the USA" Women's Clothing?

For starters, this isn’t your typical rah-rah, patriotic, flag waving argument to buy American because we love America. We do.. but its muuuuch deeper than that. The reasons for buying “Made in the USA” go well beyond  “feel good” reasons. With the current state of the world, buying “Made in America” has crossed the threshold from being a “feel good” choice to a moral and ethical issue. And it is a moral and ethical issue on so many levels.  

This will be the first in a series of posts that I am going to share to really dig past the surface and understand why, as consumers, we need to ditch our dependence on foreign made clothing. 

In this post, I will give an overview of the reasons in each of three big areas that provide compelling reasons for us to reconsider our choices when purchasing clothes. And in the weeks to come, I will be posting, in depth, on each of these issues and we will even look at some common objections  to buying “Made in America” and solutions for how we can bring “Made in the USA” back. 

But back to the question, why buy “Made in the USA?” 

This may seem like an obvious answer but if you have actually tried shopping for women’s clothing “Made in the USA” or any clothing “Made in America” for that matter, you know that it can seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. This isn’t an easy feat anymore. Today less than 2% of our clothing is “Made in America.”  And even if you are lucky enough to find clothes that carry the “Made in the USA” label,  it is still can be difficult to find a product that is “Made in America” with American materials.  ((But you can check out our post on knowing how to read a label to give you confidence that you know what you are buying.)  And if I am being honest, even when I have found clothing that is “Made in the USA” more often than not, it isn’t what I am looking for.  So, I understand just how hard it can be to commit to this movement. But don’t panic. Stick with me and I am going to give you some very easy, very doable actions that help you buy from companies who share your values in upcoming posts. But let’s take a look at the reasons first. 

 Economic
“The economy stupid.” -James Carville

 I am sure that most of us are familiar with the economic impact it has had on this country since manufacturing has largely been lost.  But allow me to share a few facts that likely won’t come as  a surprise.

 -As stated earlier, only 2% of clothes are currently “Made In the USA.” This is compared to 50% in 1996 and 95% in 1960. Because we have chosen to purchase lower priced goods made in other countries, this has contributed to the decline in wages here in the US, which results In the loss of the middle class, increases unemployment, especially for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

-Another often overlooked or neglected fact when talking about the manufacturing job losses to other countries is that the garment industry has been one reliable way for immigrants and those without college degrees to work their way up. You know, in other words, to offer the American Dream

 -The US accounts for 28% of the global market in apparel. Couple that with the fact that the average family spends an average of $1700 a year on clothes. Translation?  The American consumer has immense power when making choices over which products to buy.

Think of the impact that could have on our economy if we started buying “Made in America” clothing again. If even 10% of Americans were committed to this action, it would send shock waves through our economy and make giant strides in the right direction for bringing manufacturing back to the US.

 Environmental

 -Every year Americans throw away 12.7 million tons of clothes which equates to 68 pounds of textiles per person. (from Elizabeth Clines "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.)

-And before you think “Not me, I take my clothes to Goodwill,” consider this lite nugget of information I bet you didn’t know (because I didn’t know it either…).  Charities aren’t able to sell all of the wearable clothes they receive in donations and haven’t been since pre- WWII days.  Less than 20% of what we donate makes it through to the stores and about half goes straight to the post-consumer waste pile.  This is a whole other industry that is beyond the scope of this post but just know there is much more to this issue. 

-The shortened supply chain is also of greater significance since the transportation of goods/fabrics produced in America has significantly less impact on the environment due to the massively shorter distances required to transport the product.

-Given the massively different environmental standards in the countries where our clothes are produced and the way they are produced here is a huge issue. Consider that man-made fibers in foreign countries are treated with toxic chemicals in the creation process, these fibers are not recyclable as they cannot be separated back to their natural state  and how most fibers are bleached or dyed and treated with toxic chemicals (again) to give it the properties that we have come to expect and ask for as consumers such as water wicking, waterproof, non-wrinkle, brighter, softer, etc.

-Those same properties that we have come to grow and love (wicking, moisture management, waterproof and anti-bacterial) can be achieved in most fabrics that are “Made in the USA” and still eco-friendly.

-Since 41% of our clothing comes from China, Cline visited to see for herself how this industry was being run and the impact it was having, Cline wrote “Virtually no city in Guangdong treats waste water. Dye effluents are often pumped straight into the waterways. The runoff from dyeing plants has colored Guangdong’s Pearl River red and indigo in recent years.” One of her tour guides commented, when Cline pointed out that the air quality was awful, that it was a dream of the Chinese people to have fresh air. And then fantasized about having fresh air in one hundred years….maybe.  That’s not even in this poor girls lifetime.

 National Security

 -It is an often overlooked or neglected fact that clothing is one of the three basic necessities in life for every single human being.

-Being that it is a necessity, it is an essential part of the economy and the second largest consumer sector behind food”. (Cline; pg 8) THE SECOND LARGEST CONSUMER SECTOR.

-With this much of the economy and being a necessity to life, we are extremely vulnerable if we are unable to provide this need for ourselves. And since we have voluntarily chosen to allow other countries to provide this necessity for us, we have lost massive amounts of manufacturing.

-But what does that have to do with national security? Well, for starters, I don’t think anyone would argue that if you can’t provide the basic necessities for yourself, your family or your country then you are dependent on those who can provide for you. And when I was growing up, the sentiment “My house, my rules,” was still the prevailing logic. So just putting two and two together, leads to the logical conclusion that the same way we had to live by our parents' rules until we could pay the bills and provide for ourselves, the US will have to live by the rules of those who can provide for us, I.e. China.  I don’t want to be subject to living under the rules of another country. Especially a communist one.

-And if providing for ourselves doesn’t seem like a national security issue to you then consider these stats and observations regarding WWII, our production capabilities and how it contributed to the war effort from Wikipedia.

-“The entry of the United States into the war in late 1941 injected financial, human and industrial resources into Allied operations. The US produced more than its own military forces required and armed itself and its allies for the most industrialized war in history. (Emphasis mine.)

 -“Production of machine tools tripled, and thousands of ships were built in shipyards which did not exist before the war.[6] According to William S. Knudsen, "We won because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, the like of which he had never seen, nor dreamed possible.. (Emphasis mine.)

 -Access to resources and large, controlled international labour pools and the ability to build arms in relative peace were critical to the eventual victory of the Allies. Donald Douglas (founder of the Douglas Aircraft Company) declared, "Here's proof that free men can out-produce slaves.”

 See a theme here? Our ability to equip ourselves and our allies with the necessary tools and equipment allowed us to win the war. We had the manufacturing capability to be able to turn production up. With the monumental losses in manufacturing, its not a huge leap to think that if Pearl Harbor were attacked  today, we might have a different outcome.

 Human rights issues

 This really is the heart of the issue for us at Elizabeth Regan. Even if everything else about overseas garment production (and the garment industry in general) were perfect, this issue alone would still leave a rightful and irreparable stain on the industry reputation. 

 We often learn of atrocities in history and think to ourselves that we would never commit such acts, that we would never stand for them and we would be outspoken advocates for the oppressed, abused, exploited and neglected. One way to know what kind of advocate you would have been then is to ask yourself what kind of advocate you are being now. The issues that history has proven to be the unfair and evil acts they are, are still present in the world today. We only list a few here that are highlighted on the Clean Clothes Campaign website. These are all taken directly from their website where you can learn more. Buying clothes from responsible manufacturers is an easy way to stand for human rights.

 -Poverty wages:

"Tens of millions people work in the global garment and sportswear industry.The vast majority of them work extremely long hours, for very little pay. Sweatshop wage can be found from Asia to Europe to Latin America, with major brands admitting that literally zero of their workers earn a living wage."

-Unsafe workplaces : 

"Fashion’ search for the lowest costs comes at a high price: the health and sometimes even the lives of workers. Thousands have died in factory fires and collapses. And other dangers lurk, like the use of hazardous chemicals or sandblasting. Then there’s the noise heat and bad ventilation."

-Gender Discrimination

"Eighty percent of the estimated 40-60 million garment workers are female, and this is not a coincidence. In an industry notorious for less-than-decent working conditions, low wages, forced overtime and unsafe conditions, women are often deprived of maternity leave, child care and safe travel to work. These structural violations are made worse by gender based violence." 

 -Exploitation of migrants

"Hundreds of thousands of migrants are employed throughout the garment and textile supply chains around the world. They are subjected to many of the same abuses that local workers encounter. However, these abuses are compounded by the specific contexts in which migrant workers work."

 

We have a long way to go to clean up the fashion industry but we at Elizabeth Reagan believe that buying clothes Made in the USA is a good way to start. 

 

Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels 

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