A message from the 3%

Three-percent of the clothes we wear are still manufactured in the USA. I got a great note from the owner of the Belted Cow which designs and manufacturers belts and flip-flops. Besides Jim saying some really nice and interesting things in his note — posted below — I was really excited to learn that it’s possible to buy foam and webbing flip-flops made in America. Ever since my run-in with my buddy Pat at Deckers I’ve been searching for a new flip-flop provider. I really hope they are more comfortable than my Tevas.

Hi Kelsey,

I just finished your book. Great read and I liked your writing style. My wife and I started a small business in 2004 that works with gallery artists (not apparel designers) to create unique artwork for casual belts and accessories. We make all our products in Maine. We have to compete with a lot of companies that outsource their manufacturing to the regions you write about. It is very difficult to compete on price with these companies because their costs are much lower than ours (including freight in). For instance, my flip flops cost me 4 times what my competitor pays for his from a Chinese company. Also, as you may have found out, you can get very good quality apparel from foreign factories made by individuals who take a lot of pride in their work. You did not touch on the challenges for companies like mine who manufacture domestically when competing with companies who have their products made overseas. That is not a criticism of your book. Just another variable that needs to be considered when discussing how a consumer should view this issue. I think people know why many products made overseas cost less to buy and why companies like Wal-Mart are doing so well. In my experience, customers do like to buy apparel made in the US and our customers like the fact that Belted Cow products are Made in Maine. However they are not willing to pay too much of a premium for that.

It is a complicated issue and that is what I took from your book. Sure, if we all stopped buying goods made overseas, the companies that source their manufacturing over there would be forced to change how they did business. But as you pointed out, that won’t help the workers in the factories. Sourcing domestically has its own challenges. For apparel, it is typically more expensive (relative to overseas) and it is getting harder to find high quality factories to do your work. The domestic apparel industry just does not attract people like it used to. In my experience you are lucky to find a factory with workers like you found in Perry who have many years of experience and our committed to what they do. But who will take their place? There aren’t a lot of young applicants for sewing jobs in US factories. I have been in many domestic apparel plants and they sound similar to the ones you visited in terms of the physical plant. They do seem very different when you look at the average age of the workers and how they are treated in terms of compensation and opportunity. That is the premium you pay for when you buy a US made garment. I think it is worth it.

Thanks for writing WAIW and providing the factory worker’s perspective. We do need to keep the dialogue going. I’d also like to send you a belt if you find one you like on our site.

Jim Taylor

The Belted Cow Company
“where pants are just an accessory”

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Kyle Timmerman says:

Great feedback! Kels, I’d select the pirate belt or the history of streaking belt.

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