Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Made In America

I went to buy a couple of pillow cases and towels because we needed them for the guests who were coming for Thanksgiving, an American holiday. At a store called Bed Bath and Beyond, I found linens made in a half dozen countries, but not in America. Three salesclerks were standing in the aisle, talking with each other, so I approached and asked if they had the items I was looking for that were made in America. They all said no. I asked if anything in the whole store was made in America. All three pondered, until one of them said there were some baking sheets at the front of the store that were made in America. That was the only American-made item that any of them could think of. At the checkout counter I saw the baking sheets, proudly displayed next to a sign saying they were made in America. The sign, which seemed to have been placed there to give the impression that the store had American-made merchandise, would have told a more complete story if it had said that the baking sheets were the only things in the whole store that were American made.

Next I went to Macy's, where they had plenty of pillow cases with brand names like Martha Stewart that sounded American. But all of the towels and bed linens were made in Turkey, India, and other foreign countries, not in America where cotton used to be king. I noticed that none of the foreign-made goods were branded to sound like they were made overseas. There were no Lakshmi towels or Patel pillowcases. There were no signs boasting that the merchandise was made abroad. You practically had to have a magnifying glass to read the little tags on the merchandise to find out where they were made. Stores must have concluded that Americans want to buy things that seem American even if they are not.

When I got home, I did find what I was looking for on the Internet. If I had thought ahead I could have ordered the American-made items and had them shipped to me. But I like to be able to feel towels and other soft-goods before I buy them so I can judge their quality, and you can't do that when you shop online.

I don't have anything against foreigners. I am happy that they are busy making things to sell. It just saddens me to think how much our manufacturing sector has shrunken. Years ago, I worked in a clothing store. It sold everything a man could wear, including socks, underwear, suits, coats, sweaters, jeans, handkerchiefs, belts, and hats. Items made of cotton, wool, linen, leather, and synthetic fabrics. No shoes. That's where I learned the importance of feeling the goods before buying. Nearly everything in the store was made in America by union workers. The quality was excellent and the price was reasonable. There were only a few foreign-made items, like some French sweaters for which there was no American-made substitute. They cost more than the American sweaters. No one ever had to ask to see merchandise that was made in America.

I remember salesmen stopping by the store and pulling samples out of their cases, proudly inviting us to feel the quality and inspect the stitching. The salesmen were Americans. I remember phone calls to the factories to reorder goods that had sold well. The factories were in America. The phones were answered in America, by Americans. I remember removing crumpled-up newspaper which had been stuffed inside of big shipping boxes to cushion the smaller boxes of merchandise inside. The newspapers were in English, and they came from American towns.

As I reminisce, I think of the people in those towns scattered all across America who used to make and pack the merchandise that I sold and I wore. I hope they enjoy Thanksgiving with their families. I hope they are healthy. I hope that those who want to work can find work.

1 comment:

  1. My first thought was to offer to sew up some pillowcases for you . . . but then I wondered if the fabrics I favor are made in America? Many of the higher quality fabric lines come from Japan; some of the lesser quality are printed in China. But I know of some organic lines made and printed in America.

    It is indeed time for all of us to Buy American. Even when it is time-consuming to do so!

    Thanks for food-for-thought this Thanksgiving weekend, Lee.