This is the third post in a five piece made in USA style series, featuring pictures of my beautiful friend Mary Beth.
This week, Mary Beth is modeling her Paige Denim Verdugo Ankle skinny jeans and a Splendid jacket, both made in USA of imported fabric. And with that, time has come to talk about labeling and imported materials.
The Made in USA tag means that the product is “all or virtually all” made in the United States. That is, the product should contain none or negligible foreign content. When we are talking about clothes; buttons, a zipper or a tag may be imported but the label will still read, and rightfully so according to the law, “Made in USA”.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that the label must indicate if a product contains imported materials (if non negligible). The label may identify the country of origin of the imported materials, but it doesn’t have to. Which means that it may say, “Made in USA of imported fabric” or “Knitted in USA of imported yarn” – two very common tags. This disclosure must appear as a single statement, without separating the “Made in USA” and “imported” references. Take note that this rule does not apply to online shops, which means that something can be listed as “Made in USA” on a webpage when in fact the actual tag of the garment reads “Made in USA of imported fabric”.
For certain fabric products like sheets, towels, comforters, handkerchiefs, scarves, napkins and other “flat” goods, the FTC requires identification of the country where the fabric was made. As you can see, clothes do not fall under that category of products, thus it is impossible for us consumers to find out where the fabrics of our clothes came from. With the current market my bets are on China and India.
It can be expensive for American companies to buy domestic materials because even though we make great quality fabrics and denim here, supply is limited. Organic materials, like organic cotton, even more so. In order to make it “affordable” to buy American fabric, large bulk orders must be placed up front. Something large companies like Splendid, Paige and True Religion certainly are able to do, yet they import many of their fabrics. What’s their excuse?
A small business on the other hand, might not be able to afford US-made fabric. I imagine it must be a hard decision for someone who wants to go ‘all local’, but realizes it might break their small clothing line, especially in a start-up phase. If imported fabric allows someone to start a small business and employ locally, is it not worthy of support and encouragement?
The majority of large American brands outsource all the manufacturing of their clothes, shoes and bags to China and/or other Asian countries solely to make more profits, therefore if a company is at least committed to stitching it all together or manufacturing parts of their products here, surely that is better than nothing at all. Very often when committed to American manufacturing, the company will also have a sustainable sourcing agreement or guideline in place. Take a minute and check online and make sure the brand you’re eyeing at least has a policy in place for labor practices and environmental protection before you shop (not that that is a guarantee of any kind).
My personal goal is to not buy garments made of imported fabrics, just because I cannot trace how and where the fabrics were made. But it happens – this challenge of mine isn’t exactly easy. It is likely that the imported fabrics come from China, are made by someone working 14 hours a day for minimum pay, in a factory fueled by dirty energy, where leftover dyes and toxic chemicals pollute nearby lands. The very conditions I am against. If the material is 100% organic, fair-trade spun or made from hemp or bamboo, I’d make an exception! Organic cotton plantations, for example, bring good jobs, fair wages and healthy soils to the developing countries.
There’s no “correct” way to approach this, I feel. If I was considering our local economy and healthy manufacturing sector only, I’d lean towards accepting imported fabrics if the garment was sewn here. But in terms of planet sustainability and ethical manufacturing – what’s the point of shopping local and fair if most of the item acquired is imported and with that: UNTRACEBLE?
How do you feel about imported fabrics?
Next week, sustainability vs. jewelry is on the agenda, so check back in!
Read more about labeling at ftc.gov.