Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Look for the labels

Oh, my gosh.

Hey, I read the papers. Of course, I've heard of the foreign sweatshops and the drain of our industry overseas for the sake of escaping taxes and getting cheap labor. In a vague way...

It hit home for me this morning.

I was fashionably late for work as per usual. Grabbed a pair of almost clean pants - good old American Dockers, they were (I'm no exotic shopper; I'm the kind of guy who gravitates toward clothing with solid, nautical sounding American names - as if they were being sewn by pipe-puffing happily retired sea captains in picturesque whaling village shops along the eastern seaboard.)

I looked for the label only because my wife had chastized me for buying a pair of dry-clean-only pants by mistake. If these were of that variety, I planned to hide them under the bed forever.

"Made in Madagascar," it said.

Madagascar? Dockers are made in Madagascar? Where the heck is Madagascar - and does it have docks? And why are my lousy $24 khakis hanging out in more exotic places than I can afford to vacation in?

That got me to thinking - and checking.

The shoes I'm wearing today - Sperry Topsiders - say they are made in China. Same with the generic socks. And the belt.

The tee-shirt, Nautica, comes from Vietnam. Nam?

The button down shirt, Columbia, was made in Srilanka. Even Bogart didn't hang out in Srilanka.

And if you must know, the underwear - good old Michael Jordan approved all-American boy breathable Hanes - were made in Columbia, better known for drug trafficking and coffee beans than manties.

It's true - not a stitch of the whole deal was made anywhere close to the U.S. of A. Not even the wristwatch I never use or the tie I would have worn if my boss could ever convince me to wear one.

Now I was on a mission. I ransacked the closet, the drawers, the stuff hanging on the long-forgotten exercise bike.

My Nike running shorts, made in Mexico. Same for the Champion tank top. Sweatpants, Nike, from Hong Kong. The Asics running shoes, China.

My black going-to-funerals suit, Hilfilger, no less - from Canada of all places. No wonder it smells like stale beer.

My Hawaiian shirt, Arizona brand, is not from Arizona per sey - try Bangledesh. My Columbia cap comes from China. Go figure.

My favorite St. John's Bay dress shirt, has seen no bays. It is from somewhere called Mauritius that I had no clue existed.

My ISU sports jersey, Coliseum Athletics, is made in Korea.

My Irish cable-knit sweater, turns out, is from India. What?

My Timberland boots are from China. Can that be right? My Born sandals I always thought were made in Scandinavia, but nope, they are from Mexico. Dr. Martens, for goodness sake, come from beautiful downtown Asia.

My Levis jeans - Levis! - are made in Indonesia. I remember when they made them in the Aalf's plant just a couple doors down from my first home in Storm Lake, not so darned long ago.

In fact, after turning the entire house upside down, I could find only one piece of clothing that was not foreign-made - and that was an old Okoboji Phantoms baseball shirt I've had for years.

I almost cried when I saw the "Made in the USA" tag on it. I ripped the Hilfilger suit off the best real-wood hanger and threw the thing in a heap on the floor, so that good old worn threadbare jersey could have the place of honor. Thank you Russell Athletics.

Tomorrow morning, you try it. Check the label on everything you are going to wear that day. All those all-American brands. I suspect you may get the same wake-up call that I got today.

Sure, I knew, in a detached sense, that jobs were going overseas. That some U.S. factories were closing and cropping up again a stone's throw south of the Rio Grande. Even LEGOS...

But EVERYTHING I'm wearing? C'mon! I couldn't put together enough of an outfit to avoid arrest for indecent exposure without grabbing something right out of the third world!

My Hanes, from Columbia! For shame, Jordan. It's enough to make a guy go commando.

I never thought about that job drain in respect to my own buying habits. I suppose most people haven't. Maybe that's why we have allowed it to happen so dramatically.

We don't make stuff in the U.S. anymore. When did that happen? Is it too late to do something about it?

I think that next time we go to the store, we should perhaps ask if they have anything made in America. When they look at us with that vacant stare, we'll ask their managers to call corporate and look for some. Advertise American.

Oh, and I checked. Mauritius is booming little white-sand-and-bikinis tropical island off Africa, a couple thousand miles southwest of India. It once was the only known habitat of the Dodo bird. "You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius", as Mark Twain noted in Following the Equator, failing to foresee its future importance for making cheap crappy shirts to export to fashion-senseless newspaper editors.

I feel compelled to take the shirt on back to them one day. Surely my employer will not mind the mileage. It would be the American thing to do.

In the meantime, I suspect that we had better endeavor to support the companies that do continue to operate in the U.S. and employ American workers, before there is nothing left in our lives that says "Made in the USA." Even if it costs a few pennies more.

As for the border-jumper companies, let them pay tariffs to get their goods back in, and perhaps it won't be so tempting to go.

Ross Perot's "giant sucking sound" is in second-generation now. The jobs that went to Mexico, Thailand, Korea and South America are now being sucked from there to China.

We need to make stuff. And wear our hearts on our sleeves.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune.