Our Patchwork Heritage. Our Strength.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense…For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.
President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, January 21, 2009

My sister-in-law Suzanne sews the most amazing quilts. Each is unique; each a work of art. The grateful recipient holds a Suzanne-original and stammers: Why, this should be framed, put on a wall, hung in a gallery. It’s an heirloom to be protected, passed on from one generation to the next. To this sort of uber-reverent claptrap Suzanne might laugh and say, “Oh, just use it. Throw it in the washer and dryer. It’ll last forever.”

Fabrics for Suzanne’s quilts fill (overfill, from what she’s told me) every nook and cranny of her Kansas home. I picture her at her cutting table or sewing machine, creating gifts for friends, family, brides, grooms and grandbabies. Snow piles up outside her front door. The nearby pond freezes. She’s happy and snug inside, deep in the creative stitching process. One time she whipped-up a blanket for my youngest, dog-obsessed child. Dalmatians, terriers, corgis, retrievers pose and romp and pant and bark from one strategically placed square to the next and all around the border. Fifteen years later, the pooches haven’t aged. They warm and delight.

suzanne quilt

When President Obama first uttered the words “our patchwork heritage” during his Inaugural Address eight years ago, the phrase worked well as a metaphor for our nation’s diverse, incongruous population. It wasn’t meant to be taken literally. Ah America, land of quilt-makers. And yet, hear or read the phrase “patchwork heritage” and try NOT to think of quilts. Like trying not to picture a white polar bear, it can’t be done.

As it turns out, patchwork-quilting is an integral part of our country’s heritage. Once I began researching for this post, I quickly realized (a) how little I know about the topic of quilting in America and (b) how quilting has deep, sacred roots in this country and (c) how creating memorial quilts sustained American women during the worst of times as they lost husbands and sons and brothers and fathers in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and (d) how quilting gave voice to a few African-American slaves who, hiding away with needle, thread and cast-off fabrics, crafted their stories for future generations and (e) how quilting became–and continues to be–a powerful voice for those affected by AIDS and (f) how, to this day, quilting–whether hand-stitched or done on a machine–thrives in countless communities throughout this country.

Our patchwork heritage. Our strength.

Over 318 million of us live in these 50 states. Imagine a quilt of 318 million patches. Each has a personal story–of survival, of how parents, grandparents or great grandparents journeyed to this country; or maybe of how one’s own journey began here, the first generation to leave a native land and begin anew. What binds us together and strengthens us as a country despite 318 million+ differences? What makes us call the United States home? Those who came here first were clear. For them, America meant freedom. Opportunity. A new beginning.

For those of us who’ve been here for many generations it’s easy to take freedom for granted.  If so, think about my German neighbor. Forced to leave her home one night during WWII,  she took only what she–then 8-years-old–could carry. Or Google Chinese prisons. Or think about something less chilling; something we take for granted: the New York Times app, easily accessible on our iPhones. That’s a no-no in China. Sure, factory workers in China can make iPhones by the bazillion. They just can’t quite really truly absolutely use them. There’s the pity.

For 2017–since I don’t quilt–my writing goal is what I’ll dub “50 in 50.” Once-a-week blog posts for the next 50 weeks featuring a specific product manufactured / sewn / grown / produced in one of our 50 states; a different state and product each time.


Moving in alphabetical order, I’ll begin next week with Alabama. Are you or any of your friends or family in–or from–Alabama? If so, please chime in. What’s to love–or not love–about Alabama today? Do tell. Think of this as a virtual neighborhood. Let’s talk.

Happy New Year!















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America’s Teachable Olympic Moment

Clothing is a means of creating and communicating an identity…That’s why the attire of Olympians is so important: on the biggest stage in the world, they are constructing an identity not just for themselves, but as representatives of their country.
Prof. Michael Mamp, Central Michigan University

Before the 2016 Summer Olympics fade from memory, the educator part of me can’t let a gold-medal-worthy teachable moment go unnoticed. To arrive at this opportunity for gained wisdom, let’s first travel back in time to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

As you may recall–and as I wrote about at the time–iconic American designer-entrepreneur Ralph Lauren (estimated personal net worth in 2012: $7.5 billion) suffered a public relations fiasco when  ABC News reported that all of the apparel Mr. Lauren’s corporation (NYSE: RL) had designed and provided for the hundreds of members of Team USA to wear for the opening and closing ceremonies had been manufactured in–be still our nationalist / protectionist / recession-and-trade-deficit-weary hearts–China. 

Remarkably, as if our awareness of globalization had awakened from a nearly half-century-long slumber, Americans across the fruited plain got up off our China-made Ikea sectionals and shook our fists at our China-made plasma flat-screen TVs. This cannot be. Who does Ralph Lauren think he is? Both sides of the political aisle, sensing constituents’ outrage, condemned the outsourcing. How dare the Ralph Lauren Corporation give manufacturing jobs to other countries, other workers? What message did it send to Americans, to the world?

The outcry must’ve confused Mr. Lauren. There he was, cruising along doing the usual multinational thing, shipping his Team USA uniforms in from China, getting his oversize-polo-pony logo out there on the global stage for millions of viewers to see, and this nonsense happens. 

It wasn’t as if the Olympic uniforms hadn’t been made in China before. But the citizenry had unpredictably, inexplicably reached a tipping point. Who knew? Imagine tanned, ruggedly-handsome RL arriving at his Bedford, New York manse, his normally calm demeanor ruffled, visions of pitchfork-and-torch carrying American mobs dancing in his marketing-savvy head. Would they trample his manicured lawns and hedges? Spray-paint his circular drive? Throw eggs at his circa-1919 stone manor’s Norman-style windows? What’s a billionaire entrepreneur to do?

And just like that–or so my educated hunch tells me–Mr. Lauren had an epiphany. He would embrace his home country and its workers, seek out the finest American sources, and create a 100 percent USA-made collection for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.  He would repair the damage done to his brand’s image and be hailed Keeper of the American Dream. Fine by me. Whatever it takes to revive manufacturing here in the USA, I say go for it.

So it came to pass that Dan and Jeanne Carver of Imperial Stock Ranch in Shaniko, Oregon, got the call from one of Mr. Lauren’s New York designers. After some discussion, it was mutually agreed that the wool for Team USA’s opening ceremony sweaters at the 2014 Olympics would be sourced from the sheep happily grazing on Imperial Stock’s 35,000 acre family owned and operated ranch. 

In a beautifully produced YouTube video posted by Ralph Lauren on November 1, 2013, Jeanne Carver describes her family’s ranch as “truly an American treasure,” and marvels at how, thanks to Ralph Lauren’s choice, business had doubled. In all, Imperial Stock Ranch supplied 6,250 pounds of wool. The wool then traveled to Kraemer Yarns in Nazareth, Pennsylvania where it was spun, producing 5,625,000 yards of yarn. From there the yarn was sent to Longview Yarns in Hickory, North Carolina–another deep-rooted family-owned and operated business–where it was dyed. Here’s Longview’s proud owner, Russ Perkins, with samples of the finished product.

The dyed yarn then traveled across the country to Ball of Cotton knitwear factory in Commerce, California. According to the Los Angeles Times, Ball of Cotton owners Eddy and Elizabeth Park, both South Korean immigrants, had no idea how Ralph Lauren & Co found them. “‘We were so shocked.'” 

The Parks’ industrial machines created each sweater’s knit fabric from the spun, dyed yarn. Their workers then hand-sewed each sweater’s 14 different parts together, “applied the USA patch and pressed the final garments.” And do the Parks have an opinion about outsourcing?  Of course. “Big believers in American manufacturing, [they have] never given serious thought to moving production to a low-cost country overseas.” Says Eddy Park: “‘I live here and give a lot of important jobs. I have a lot of responsibilities for my employees…That is very, very important.'” The Parks consider the 100 percent USA-made sweater “an American treasure.” Although not everyone loved the design–some said it looked too much like a kitschy Christmas sweater–the product quickly sold out online. In all, select vendors across the USA manufactured 650 uniforms and 65,000 items of RL brand clothing for the 2014 Winter games. 

Now let’s return to the opening and closing ceremonies of the recently-concluded Summer Olympics in Rio. Team USA again wore Ralph Lauren uniforms designed and 100 percent manufactured in this country. RL’s website continues to feature over 500 USA-made items for purchase, from Olympic-inspired flip-flops to t-shirts and tote bags.  RL’s commitment to source locally–meaning from businesses throughout our country–likely continues to stimulate our economy in ways difficult to estimate. In a 2012 letter to the US Olympic Committee, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) estimated that “manufacturing Olympic garments in America would bring $1 billion into the U.S. economy.” The uniforms manufactured by the Ralph Lauren Corporation represent only a small percentage of all the garments worn by America’s elite athletes. Imagine all the jobs created in this country if Nike and Speedo and Under Armour made the same commitment to American manufacturing, even if only for the Olympics. 

Oh, did I mention our country’s latest GDP numbers? A pathetic 1.1 percent. China’s GDP? 6.7 percent.

Back to our country’s Teachable Olympic Moment. It’s all about the power of the American purse. As consumers we wield tremendous power. The success of this country’s most iconic brands ultimately depends our respect for them. They need us to buy their products. They know perception is key. When gold-medal swimmer Brian Lochte admitted to lying about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio, his endorsement deals with Speedo, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gentle Hair Removal and Airweave evaporated.  Whether via social media or at the water cooler or in line for their morning caffeine fix, the public had spoken: the guy’s a loser. Drop him.

Economists and globalists may insist manufacturing (especially low-skilled apparel manufacturing) is dead in this country–nothing to see here, folks, move on–but I refuse to believe it.

How about you?

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Oh Hey, Marine Layer? Come Home.

If loyalty is, and always has been, perceived as obsolete, why do we continue to praise it? Because loyalty is essential to the most basic things that make life livable. Without loyalty there can be no love. Without loyalty there can be no family. Without loyalty there can be no friendship. Without loyalty there can be no commitment to community or country. And without those things, there can be no society.
                —Eric Felten, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue (2011)

My recent realization that Marine Layer now imports some of its products (it always starts with some) from a factory in China has me daydreaming about picketing outside the company’s flagship store on Chestnut Street. My Felten-inspired protest sign would simply say: I’M VEXED. I doubt anyone would take their eyes off an iPhone long enough to notice. But the cool, moist air wafting up from the San Francisco Bay would do me good.

A few years ago Marine Layer had all the trappings of loyalty to place, to community. The brand’s logo depicted a napper lazing on a hammock strung between two pillars of the Golden Gate Bridge. Its motto seemed authentic: Made Here. Made Well. Its understated humor effectively made a point: Made in California. By Adults. And that easygoing tagline nicely encapsulated the brand’s surfer-dude ethos: Oh Hey.

And so I bought a few Marine Layer T-shirts, polo shirts and infinity scarves both online and at the Chestnut Street store to give as gifts. Back in 2012, as I mentioned at the time in a blog post, the company touted the fact that “every step of our production process occurs in California. This minimizes our environmental footprint and supports 3 American factories that have been in business for over 25 years.” A tag attached to each item I purchased looked like this:

Proudly made in San Francisco, CA. Sure, these items cost significantly more than similar apparel at larger retail stores, but at least I knew my purchases would help support decent-paying, environmentally-regulated Bay Area jobs at every level, from designers and marketers to cutters and sewers.

A couple of weeks ago Marine Layer’s summer catalog arrived in the mail. The catalog’s cover photo shows a foam-crested aqua wave crashing against a rocky cliff in Oahu, Hawaii.  A model wearing a banana leaf print romper strides, arms outstretched, toward the protruding cliff’s edge. But as I flipped through the catalog, the all-important Made Here. Made Well. descriptor had gone missing. No country of origin information was given at all. Not even the word “Imported.” I called a Marine Layer store, asked where the romper on the cover was made. “In our sister factory in China,” the helpful employee said, sounding casual and breezy, as if this sibling–who just happened to live on the other side of the world–had been sewing clothes for the Marine Layer family all along.

“I always thought Marine Layer prided itself on the whole ‘Made in California by adults’ thing,” I said, making air-quotes for no one but me as I paced back and forth in my kitchen. “And the whole ‘environment footprint’ thing. What happened to that?”

“We pride ourselves on making quality products. We still make our basics here, but we tried making more complex pieces in the U.S. for some time but they didn’t meet our quality standards.”

Wait. What happened to those “3 American factories that have been in business for over 25 years” Marine Layer used to brag about on its website? The argument that they couldn’t sew a decent romper, sweatshirt, blouse, denim skirt or any of the dozens of other products now made in China for Marine Layer at its sister factory didn’t fly. Vexing, indeed. Perhaps the Marine Layer logo should be tweaked to better reflect the country of its sister factory.

 When I checked online, I saw that Marine Layer now has two country-of-origin descriptors: “Made in California, by Adults.” “Made Abroad, by Adults.” No mention of China, by the way.  I wonder why…

Look, I get it. It’s all about keeping prices and profit margins high and manufacturing costs low. But what’s the true, larger cost to the global environment? To our society as a whole? Those low wages in China (and India and Africa and on and on it goes) push down wages for workers here in the U.S.A. Those sewing jobs, brushed-aside nowadays as unworthy of discussion, are desperately needed by masses of otherwise unskilled Americans who depend on them.

The Los Angeles Times recently told the story of Marina Neza, 66, who earned about $500 a week as a sewing machine operator for American Apparel before being laid off. With “over 32 years in the industry, Neza said she’s been fortunate to work for many apparel makers in Los Angeles that paid decent wages. But…she’s worried about finding another job to make ends meet…’Apparel manufacturing has been my life,’ she said. ‘There are many, many companies that have moved out of here. I’m not sure about finding work.'”

Since 2000, we’ve lost 5 million manufacturing jobs across the country, including tens of thousands of jobs in textile / apparel manufacturing. Between 1990 and 2000, garment manufacturers laid off almost 16,500 San Franciscans. Last year alone, Los Angeles experienced a 33 percent drop in jobs for garment workers.  Not everyone is headed for a job in the computer industry or skilled manufacturing. We need jobs for garment workers. We need loyalty to country.

Oh hey, Marine Layer? Please come home.

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Losing Mickey

“Disney needs to avoid getting lost in translation, an especially difficult proposition in China. It is a deeply American brand trying to break into a country where the government wants to suppress Western ideals.” —How China Won the Keys to Disney’s Magic Kingdom,  The New York Times, June 14, 2016


I’m conflicted.  Disney-Pixar’s Finding Dorysequel to the popular, lovable Finding Nemo, came out this week.  I’d like to see it. But as Shanghai Disney opened last Thursday, I had to wonder: does the Disney brand deserve my monetary support? Does it deserve yours? What did Jiminy Cricket used to say? “Always let your conscience be your guide.” Sorry, Jiminy. My conscience is confused.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Label-reading over the past five years had already made me cynical about Disney’s supposedly all-American brand. I’d say 99.99 percent of the company’s merchandise–every Mickey and Minnie, Elsa and Anna, T-shirt and bit and bauble–is manufactured elsewhere; mostly in China. An argument could be made that for decades now, Disney’s been China’s, not ours; that Shanghai Disney’s the next logical step. Why, more than 330 million people live within easy reach of the new theme park. How could any sane multinational corporation resist that potential gold mine?  Jiminy Cricket be damned. Magic Kingdom, meet Middle Kingdom. Mickey, meet Mao. Walt, meet your new partners in the Carousel of Progress.

And so it came to pass that back in 2011, as we tossed and turned over our Great Recession, Disney and an increasingly aggressive communist China broke ground on the $5.5 billion resort. Under the terms of the agreement, The New York Times reports, state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group won an astounding 57 percent stake in the resort, including “revenue from hotels, restaurants and merchandise sold on the grounds.” Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger (2015 compensation: $46.5 million) gushed: “This is a defining moment in our company’s history.”

Yeah, Bob, I’d have to agree. Definitely a defining moment. In Shanghai, under your leadership, Disney’s formerly American–and yes, fun and silly–narrative will undergo a kind of ethnic cleansing. “Worried that importing classic rides would reek of cultural imperialism,” The New York Times continues, “Disney left out stalwarts such as Space Mountain, the Jungle Cruise and It’s a Small World…a move that pleased executives at the company’s Chinese partner…Disney is going to extraordinary lengths to prove its commitment to China and the Communist Party.” Um, okay. No hokey Jungle Cruise? No really bad jokes? No childlike global characters singing that song you can’t get out of your head for the rest of the day? Stop the world, I want to get off.

Is it just me, or is anyone else picturing Mickey and Minnie and the gang from Frozen in battle-green Mao jackets, Little Red Books in hands, marching dutifully along in the Shanghai Disney Main Street Parade?

I’m guessing the audio-animatronic “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction won’t be pulling into Shanghai Disney anytime soon. That’s a shame. My siblings and I used to duck inside Mr. Lincoln’s air conditioned theater at Disneyland to escape the rest of the park’s long lines and Anaheim summer heat. As we watched the not-quite-lifelike man on the stage move about, the hum and click of his gears and machinery–at first laughably noticeable–receded into the background. His mechanized mouth opened and closed, out-of-sync with the piped-in words that filled the dark, artificially-cooled space. Here now, brought to you courtesy online-search-wizardry, part of Lincoln’s speech:

What constitutes the bulwark of our…liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts…These are not our reliance against…tyranny…Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.

Tell me, Abe: how to keep the spirit of liberty alive nowadays? By aligning oneself with a government intent on controlling the rights and freedoms of its people? Does that make sense? I see you stroking your beard. I see you saying “Nope.”

The same day Shanghai Disney threw open its polished gates, a press conference was held in Hong Kong. Lam Wing Kee, one of five Hong Kong booksellers who vanished last year while across the border visiting the city of Shenzhen (where much of our electronic gadgetry originates), spoke out about his months in custody on mainland China. According to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Lam and his colleagues were abducted and detained, “blindfolded, handcuffed and taken by train to a cell measuring 200 to 300 square feet in the eastern city of Ningbo, about 13 hours away…forced to sign a document admitting guilt for mailing banned books to mainland China.” Under the “one country, two systems” legal framework, Hong Kong booksellers are allowed to sell books banned on the mainland and “mainland officials don’t have the authority to abduct Hong Kong citizens and take them to the mainland.” No matter. A tyrannical government doesn’t sweat the details.

Which brings me back to Finding Dory.  We may have lost Mickey, but we still, for the moment, have sweet, vulnerable, memory-challenged Dory. Of course I’m going to see her movie. I want to celebrate another unique animated feature film made here in the Bay Area by Pixar, the other–increasingly more admirable–half of the Disney equation. I want to encourage Pixar to keep producing films here; to keep providing jobs for talented animators and writers and hundreds of other people connected to film-making. I want to laugh, eat popcorn with my family, forget last week’s unthinkable Orlando-based horrors.

Is that so wrong? Hope not.


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Top 10 Reasons to Buy USA-Made Gifts for Dad

In researching USA-made gifts for Father’s Day, a couple of thoughts kept nagging at me: Why should anyone care where a product’s been made? Is USA-made even relevant in our increasingly globalized, border-free world? Why not shut up and stop irritating everyone, from a blameless Marine Layer employee (story to come in a future post) to my own family and friends? Who do I think I am? I’m no economist. Nag, nag, nag. Then I remembered Todd Lipscomb’s eye-opening book, Re-Made in the USA (2011).

A former tech industry executive for Western Digital Corporation, Lipscomb had a front row seat “watching Asian countries take American manufacturing jobs,” the publisher’s note explains. This 15-year experience “convinced him to move back to the United States and start MadeInUSAForever.com, which sells only high quality American-made goods.”

When I began CAMJ in 2011, the information in Lipscomb’s well-researched book kept me motivated. His accompanying website back then–a kind of hokey-looking virtual general store–offered a handful of products for sale. On days when I wanted to give up, drive to Target and fill a red plastic cart with cheap China-made goodies, I’d instead go online and see if Todd had any new products posted. Although still uncool in appearance–but maybe that’s part of its charm–the online store has grown exponentially. A red and blue banner now shouts: “Over 5500 Products! All made in the USA!” Also featured is the perfect antidote for those (myself included) who wonder why-oh-why manufacturing continues to matter in this country. Drum roll please. I give you Todd Lipscomb’s “Top Ten Reasons to Buy USA Made Products”:

10) Foreign labor standards allow unsafe worker conditions in many countries. When you buy American you support not only American manufacturers but also American workers, safe working conditions, and child labor laws.

9) Jobs shipped abroad almost never return. When you buy goods made in the USA, you help keep the American economy growing.

8) US manufacturing processes are much cleaner for the environment than many other countries; many brands sold here are produced in countries using dangerous, heavily polluting processes. When you purchase American-made product, you know that you’re helping to keep the world a little cleaner for your children.

7) Many countries have no minimum wage restrictions, or the minimum wage is outrageously low. When you choose products made in the USA, you contribute to the payment of an honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work.

6) The growing lack of USA ability to manufacture many products is strategically unsound. When you seek out American-made goods, you foster American independence.

5) The huge US trade deficit leads to massive, unsustainable borrowing from other countries. Debt isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for America.

4) Foreign product safety standards are low. For example, poisonous levels of lead are in tens of millions of toys shipped to the USA. When you buy toys and other goods made in the USA, you can be confident that American consumer protection laws and safety standards are in place to protect your family.

3) Lack of minimum wage, worker safety, or environmental pollution controls in many countries undermines the concept of “fair and free trade”. No Western nation can ultimately compete on price with a country willing to massively exploit and pollute its own people. When you buy only American-made products, you insist on a higher standard.

2) Factories and money are shifting to countries not friendly to the USA or democracy. When you avoid imported goods in favor of American-made items, you help ensure that the United States doesn’t find its access to vital goods impacted by political conflict.

1) As the US manufacturing ability fades, future generations of US citizens will be unable to find relevant jobs. Buy American and help keep your friends and neighbors-and even yourself-earning a living wage.

By the way, as if to underscore Lipscomb’s final point, the Labor Department recently released its latest jobs report: in the merry month of May, the U.S. created an underwhelming 38,000 jobs. For the health of our economy (and to keep new college grads employed and independent instead of living in their old rooms at home), we should’ve created 162,000 jobs.  “There’s one word for it, which is just shocking,” said Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America. “Unfortunately it does look like a trend. It’s not great news.” NOOOOO….

With the above information in mind, here are a few USA-made gift ideas for Father’s Day, all under $50…until the end where I veer off into another buying dimension…

  • WALLET: Allett, Inc’s classic leather RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) security wallet ($40.96). Made in San Diego, CA. Lined with a thin alloy to protect against credit card and identity theft. Online at MadeinUSAForever.com.  
  • GYM / WORKOUT CLOTHES: Check out WSI Sportswear. Using California-made fabric, products are designed, cut and sewn at the company’s factory in Eagan, Wisconsin.  “This heather grey Microtech loose fit short sleeve shirt is a perfect shirt for high performance athletes.” ($25) Pair it with Microtech gym shorts, show below. ($19.50)

  • T-SHIRTS: For dads who aren’t shy about making a statement…All American Clothing (online only) has thought-provoking T-shirts. ($17.99 ea) And yes, I’m ordering both of these for Don. He’s planning to wear the bottom one to our town’s Fourth of July parade.  Yup, my hero. 

Now, if you’d like to go over $50–say your startup went public; you cashed in your stock options; you can’t wait to toss money into the economy–these are darn nice:

  • WATCH: Shinola “The Runwell” leather strap watch; made in Detroit of imported materials. ($550) I know. For that price, it’d better run well…

With apologies to swanky Brooks Brothers, I can’t resist comparison-shopping on behalf of loyal CAMJ readers. These All American Clothing jeans look just as good as the high-priced competitor’s. Price? $25. You’re welcome.

Shopping tip: on any retailer’s website, simply enter “Made in USA” into search box (also refine your search by adding “Men’s” or whatever category you’re seeking). But always read the complete product description.  If it doesn’t actually state “Made in USA” it’s likely imported.

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Six Degrees of Reese Witherspoon

“There’s a heart and soul to things. Otherwise, what’s the point? My heart and soul is in how I feel about the South. It’s what inspires me. It’s what makes me want to go back home.”—Reese Witherspoon

Lunching at Carmel’s  La Bicyclette a couple of weeks ago, Don and I sat close enough to Reese Witherspoon to reach over and steal a couple of her yummy-looking pommes frites. Not that we did. Don, his back to her, didn’t even realize she was there. I didn’t tell him for fear he’d raise his voice over the crowded room. What? Who’s here? Reese who?

I like to play it cool around celebrity-types, as if I’m above caring. But I’m not cool. I’m easily embarrassed and way too shy to assert myself in these situations. And so as the Legally Blonde star–who won an Oscar in 2005 for her performance in Walk the Line and has an estimated $80 million net worth–and friend Heather Rosenfield talked, ate and laughed, I tried to not look. I wanted to snap a picture and text it to family and friends, but didn’t have the nerve. Instead, here are a couple of pics Reese herself posted on Snapchat (thanks to my sister / CAMJ media-consultant, Joni Accomazzo, for passing them along):

As this all played out, amid the clatter of plates, piped-in bistro music and chatter of other diners, I thought about my mom. She wouldn’t have hesitated saying hi to Reese. She would’ve told her she looked even prettier in person than on film. She would’ve said I LOVE those blue and white pants. They’re so different. Where’d you find them? Then she and Reese and Heather would’ve hung out, had a couple glasses of wine, exchanged contact info, taken a selfie together and become new best friends.

Mom (you can call her Lucy) passed away in 2013. Today’s her birthday. She was many things: devout Catholic; the love of Dad’s life; listener-in-chief; dispenser of advice and encouragement to each of her nine kids; also, fabulous Sunday dinner cook, avid reader, follower of politics, Hollywood, pop culture and fashion. Like Jackie O, Mom had natural beauty and an innate sense of style. She covered fashion for her college newspaper. After she and Dad got married, in between having babies and cooking and cleaning and praying rosaries, she’d read Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue at night propped up in bed, pen in hand, jotting notes in the margins.

Which brings me back to Mom’s BFF, fashionista Reese. No slouch either, in the last five years alone she’s starred in 10 feature films, narrated Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, created a film production company called Pacific Standard, become a Twitter and Instagram-based Oprah-worthy book club guru, and launched her own Southern-inspired clothing and lifestyle brand called Draper James. Forget Kevin Bacon. Reese Witherspoon is everywhere.

As she got up to leave, Reese tapped Don on the shoulder. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you but my shopping bag’s right there by your table…would you mind…?” Don pulled the bag off a nearby shelf and handed it to her. “Thanks so much.” He nodded and smiled, not really looking at her. After she and Heather had left, I leaned in and spilled the beans. Don couldn’t believe I hadn’t told him. “Really? That was Reese Witherspoon?” he asked. Then it hit me. Did he even know who she was? “Yeah, sure. She’s the one in…what was it…wait, don’t tell me…” We paid the bill and headed out the door. “I know! Pretty in Pink, right?”

I mention Reese Witherspoon in this blog post for good reason. Her company, the aforementioned Draper James (named for her maternal grandparents, Dorothea Draper and William James Witherspoon), is committed to encouraging manufacturing in the U.S.A. According to Women’s Wear DailyWWD: “Seventy percent of Draper James is made in the U.S., and the aim is to produce everything domestically and the bulk of that in the South…”  If I’d known any of this when I was seated near Reese at lunch, I would’ve pulled myself together, reached out and thanked her for what she’s trying to do in this country.

If you peruse the company’s website, watch Reese’s behind-the-scenes look at the Blue Ridge, Georgia, factory where Draper James’s denim is made. Oh, and those cute blue and white pants Reese wore to lunch? Draper James, of course.

They’re pricey ($165) but they are indeed made in the U.S.A. Sold online and at Draper James’s  brick-and-mortar store in Nashville, Tennessee.  Check ’em out, y’all.  Sorry. Nothing worse than a Cali-born valley girl trying to sound Southern. Yup, uncool. Like, totally.

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Be Happy, America. And Vigilant.

Shuttling among farms, mines and prison camps, he said, he was beaten…and placed in a coffinlike concrete case. He lost 75 pounds before he was released in 1979 when he was 42, three years after Mao’s death.
Harry Wu, Who Told World of Abuses in China, Dies at 79, The New York Times, April 27, 2016


I’m chatting by phone with Vincent, the Pottery Barn representative. He’s friendly and warm and has an ah-shucks twang in his voice.  I ask where he’s located. “Las Vegas, Nevada, ma’am,” he says. “Pottery Barn’s strictly U.S.-based for customer service.” He giggles. I hear him and think maybe 30 Rock’s  Jack McBrayer / Kenneth Parcell has taken a job answering Pottery barn phones. This is America. Anything’s possible.

“If you wouldn’t mind helping me, Vincent, I’m trying to figure out where Pottery Barn’s patriotic stuff–all the flags and swags and such–were made? I don’t see country of origin information. I really try to buy products that’re made in the U.S.A.”

“You do? Me too! Let’s see, you’re talking about the Americana Collection, right? From what I’m told if it doesn’t say imported it’s not supposed to be, and these should be made here because they’re, you know, things with flags and so that would make sense…but…can you hold on for a second? Let me check with my supervisor.”

As I wait, PB’s Americana Collection glows from my laptop screen. Clean, crisp and front-porch-friendly, the red, white and blue flags, swags, banners, table runners and napkins seem to say: “Pull up a chair. Have a glass of lemonade. Sing something patriotic. So what if the U.S. merchandise trade deficit with China hit a record $365,694,500,000 in 2015? Don’t worry. Be happy.” The Bobby McFerrin song now in my head will stay with me for the rest of the day.

Fellow-patriot Vincent returns. “Thanks for waiting, ma’am. We can’t figure out where anything came from. I’m sorry. Try calling one of the stores that carries these items. Someone can check the packaging for you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Buh-bye, Vincent-in-Vegas. Thanks anyway.

Turns out it’s all from China. Every last patriotic flag and festoon. “It shouldn’t be this way,” the salesperson at a bricks-and-mortar Pottery Barn store says with a sigh. “You know, someone should say something about that.”

Okay, here goes: America’s patriotic symbols shouldn’t be used on any retail products unless those products have been 100 percent made in the U.S.A. Those products should create American jobs. They should symbolize loyalty to this country. Anyone agree with me? Does it even matter? Why not let the issue drop?

I head over to my local Starbucks. Across the street, at the Veteran’s Hall, a bronze sculpture awaits those inclined to pause and think. Sometimes the families and friends of fallen soldiers gather, inches from the sculpture. They leave flowers and hand-written notes. I miss you. I love you. 

The total number of Americans killed in all U.S. wars? Over 1.1 million. All gave some. Some gave all. Freedom isn’t free. On Memorial Day, to honor those who’ve paid the ultimate price, we go about our daily lives. We grill burgers. We toast the coming summer. We celebrate the ordinary. Did you see? Apricots and cherries are back. Watermelons will be here soon.

Driving home I sip my latte, listen to a podcast. China-expert Gordon Chang is trying to express his thoughts about yesterday’s memorial in Washington, D.C. for Harry Wu. But the normally-eloquent Mr. Chang chokes up. Who was Harry Wu? Dissident. Activist. Survived 19 horrific years in Chinese labor camps. Regained his freedom, settled in the U.S., became a citizen. Then, amazingly, he “slipped back into China to gather undercover footage of the prison camps.” From the Washington Post:

The footage aired on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” and on the BBC in the 1990s. With those reports, Mr. Wu helped draw widespread attention to Chinese practices of using forced labor to produce exports — among them wrenches and artificial flowers ultimately banned by the United States — and harvesting organs from executed prisoners. According to his research, more than 50 million prisoners passed through the system over 40 years. 

From The New York Times:

Mr. Wu moved to the United States in 1985, arriving with $40 to take an unpaid post as a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and supporting himself by working nights at a doughnut shop.

He became an American citizen in 1994 and a tireless critic of the “reform through labor” system, known by the contraction laogai (rhymes with now-guy), which he refused to let the world disregard, even as Washington and other capitals sought commercial and political ties with China. He compared laogai to the Soviet gulag and to Nazi concentration camps…

I wonder if Laura J. Alber, CEO of Williams-Sonoma, Inc. (of which Pottery Barn is a subsidiary) has an opinion about prison life for human rights activists in Communist China. Considering Ms. Alber’s estimated compensation last year–$13,995,325–she should certainly be up-to-speed on all things China. If so, how can she allow any PB products to be manufactured there, let alone the red, white and blue Americana line?

Thomas Jefferson said “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” If you’re shopping for a new American flag for Memorial Day, be vigilant. Read the label. Pottery Barn chose China. We don’t have to. Instead, we can purchase flags from Annin, the oldest and largest flag manufacturers in the United States. Annin’s products are made “by Americans, for Americans.” Sounds good to me.

Happy Memorial Day. And rest in peace, Harry Wu.

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Summer Roses and Sticky Wickets

Displaying FullSizeRender.jpgThe flowers that bloom in the spring,
Tra la,
Breathe promise of merry sunshine–
As we merrily dance and we sing,
Tra la,
We welcome the hope that they bring,
Of a summer of roses and wine,
Of a summer of roses and wine.
                                                                                       –The Mikado, by W.S. Gilbert (1885)

In 2010 Don and I set out to redo our 1950’s-era backyard. Don wanted lots of boxwood hedges. I didn’t. “Too formal,” I told him. I wanted fragrant roses spilling over a white arbor. He shook his head. “Roses are a pain. They need pruning and spraying and all sorts of stuff.” He had a point. After all, he’s the experienced gardener in the family. The one with a green thumb. I’m more the idea person. As in: “I have an idea. Why don’t you plant me some roses?”

In the end neither of us listened to the other (the secret to a long and happy marriage). We listened to someone else instead. “You guys want an English country garden,” landscape designer Peter said, sketching as he spoke. “I think a boxwood boundary here, around the patio, would be nice and climbing roses here, on an arched arbor over the back gate would do well in the west-facing part of the yard. More roses here, growing on lattices up against the house, would be nice, too.” Don and I nodded. Yes, sure, nice.

That autumn, Don planted climbing roses on either side of our newly constructed arbor and gate. Two months later my Dad passed away. Following Dad’s memorial in Orange County, Don and I returned to our home in San Francisco’s chilly, drizzly East Bay. The rose plants–bare, seemingly lifeless–on either side of the white arbor underscored my sadness.

As a tribute to Dad, I resolved to buy only products made in the USA for the coming new year. That single 2011 resolution spawned hundreds of blog posts, dozens of interviews with manufacturers and company owners and entrepreneurs; hundreds of USA-made purchases; countless conversations with fellow-citizens who seemed to be in varying stages of grief over the loss of manufacturing in this country. As I write this, books related to the globalization topic cram the shelves in my converted garage office. Pertinent articles fill several lateral file drawers. And Dad’s a vital part of the conversation, too, through his writing, inventions, lecture tapes, colleagues; through my memories and those of my siblings.

And the roses? As you can see, they survived, thrived and look more beautiful than ever. Can roses smile? These seem to. Anyway, Don’s made peace with them. “Once you get in the habit of pruning and spraying,” he says, “it’s no big deal.”

No big deal. Maybe the same could be said of trying to purchase products made or grown in this country. Red grapes from Chili or organic red grapes from California? Zucchini grown in California or yellow squash from Mexico? Why not choose Cali? Buying fresh, locally-grown produce is not that difficult, is it? (I know. First world problem, for sure.)

But…let’s say you’ve got a hankering for grass-fed 100 percent USA beef for your Memorial Day BBQ. Ah, there’s a sticky wicket, my freedom-loving fellow Americans, because just last December the World Trade Organization (WTO) authorized over $1 billion annually in trade sanctions against the USA unless we “weaken” or “eliminate” our Country of Origin Labels (COOL) on our meats.

Trade agreements have consequences. For one thing, they make me use terms like “hankering” and “sticky wicket.” For another, they make American consumers confused and angry. We want to know where the meat we’re buying originated–a ranch in California or somewhere in Canada? (The average Canadian is now better off than the average American, by the way; so they’ll be fine.) Do we pound on the meat counter? Demand information? Yell at the butcher in the no-longer-white apron wielding a meat cleaver? Become vegan? Sticky wicket indeed.

One last thing: remember that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza quits his job then returns to it as if he’d never left, hoping no one will notice? I guess this is my Costanza moment. Quit China Ate My Jeans? Who, me? No way. Why, I’ve been here all along…so here’s to merry sunshine and pink roses and weekly blog posts, tra la.  Oh, and wine. California grown, of course. Cheers.

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Make Your Holiday Shopping Red, White and Blue. Start Today. #AAMDay.

So, I’m at the skincare counter of a local department store the other day chatting with Alice, my favorite makeup / make-over miracle-worker, and she says: “Hey, what’s happening with the blog?”

Seriously? She remembers it? After hibernating in my converted garage office for days, weeks, months, surrounded by newspaper clippings and books and files and purchases, I’m so grateful to Alice for remembering the blog that it’s hard not to gush. I restrain myself. Wouldn’t want to frighten her or anything. (Bay Area Blogger over-hugs esthetician. Film at 11…)

“Well…I’m working on a book about my year trying to buy stuff made in the USA…but I do miss writing the blog…thanks for asking about it.”

Alice keeps pushing. “At the very least, you should post a Gone Fishin’ message or something. Let people know what’s happened to you.”

“People?” I ask, picturing Alice, party of one, perusing my website. Cue crickets in background.  

“Sure. I’m always telling people about your blog.”

The other reason I like Alice? She’s like a collagen-shot to this writer’s ego. 


But let’s cut to the chase, as my impatient, always-thinking cinematographer-Dad used to say. Why a blog post now, after such a long absence? Because it’s American Made Matters Day. I couldn’t let this pre-Black Friday occasion slip by. Need motivation to think about purchasing at least one American-made product today? Consider this photo of super-sized, imports-packed shipping containers stacked up at the Port of Long Beach, CA. 

Congestion worsens at Ports of L.A., Long Beach

It’s a safe bet that most are filled with holly-jolly import-goodies destined for retail stores all across the USA. Did you know the number of imports arriving in Port of Long Beach in September alone increased by 11 percent?

Putting the trade imbalance issue aside, think about this disturbing nugget: according to author / former Western Digital Corporation executive Todd Lipscomb (Re-Made in the USA), “just 15 of those enormous cargo container ships produce as much pollution as all the cars in the world…they use ‘bunker’ fuel, which contains 2,000 times the level of sulfur and other pollutants. That dirty oil they burn equates to pollution emissions from 50 million cars for one year.”

Let me repeat. 15 cargo containers = a year’s worth of pollution emissions from 50 million cars. Now multiply that by a gazillion cargo containers slogging back and forth from China to Long Beach every day of the year, spewing unregulated gunk into our seas. Nice. Still, we need our Shenzhen-made iPhones, right? And no, I’m not volunteering to give mine up.

On the other hand, imagine if most of the holiday gifts, decorations, and clothing we’ll be scooping up in the coming weeks had been made here at home, somewhere in the USA.  Lipscomb estimates that “if every adult in this country made the commitment to buy one $30 American-made product per month, instead of its foreign version, we would directly create 500,000 jobs here in the USA…[which would lead] to additional jobs at suppliers, transporters, and other companies that support the manufacturing and sales processes.”

We can commit to that, right?

For example, let’s say you were going to pick up some Legos construction toys for your kids/ nieces/ nephews / grandkids.  Legos are manufactured in many, many countries–except ours. No worries. Buy K’NEX instead. Made in Pennsylvania. No oceanic travel necessary. From its website:

K’NEX is the only construction toy company committed to manufacturing in the United States. K’NEX bricks, rods and connectors are manufactured in Pennsylvania at [an] eco-friendly facility…While most toys are made overseas, we are committed to manufacturing in the United States.

Look what Troy (17), a devoted K’NEX builder made (thus simultaneously creating a charming focal point for his parents’ living room):

thrill rides car

Troy–who’s wisely decided to pursue an engineering degree–says Legos frustrated him: Legos had restrictions as to different shapes and angles I could build, [but] K’NEX provided a nearly limitless approach to rudimentary engineering because of the numerous combinations of connections between two pieces.

Check out American Made Matters for links to hundreds of USA-made products (and money-saving holiday discounts).  Happy shopping!

And Alice? Thanks again for the encouragement.








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Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in American-Made Jeans

This blog began on December 31, 2010, with a silly-sounding name: China Ate My Jeans. The idea for the name came from my days as an elementary school teacher. Kids would come up with the most outrageous excuses for not turning in their homework. And yes, on more than one occasion, the family dog was named as the culprit.

Prior to my Dad’s passing on November 28, 2010, the fact that my favorite Levi’s or Chico’s or Style & Co or Caslon jeans were made thousands of miles away under dubious conditions mattered not a whit. Those were the concerns of other people. You know the type. They volunteer for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) or for the Peace Corps or advocate in some admirable way for a worthwhile cause. That wasn’t me.

But when I pulled out my Dad’s writing shortly after his death, his concerns struck a nerve. Add to that an odd coincidence: On Thanksgiving Day, 2010, my final conversation with my Dad was about “Import Backlash,” an expression he’d coined in the early 70s. In trying to take Dad’s mind off his esophageal cancer by reminiscing about the past, I found myself intrigued. “What is made here anymore?” I wondered aloud. Dad nodded, tried to focus, but really only wanted to talk about food. He was hungry. He couldn’t eat. He was tired of sucking on popsicles. Three days later, he passed away.

Decades earlier, Dad–a Hollywood cinematographer who had begun to see film industry jobs go overseas–wrote a paper about his “Import Backlash” concerns. He’d feared that if American companies continued to move manufacturing jobs out of this country our middle class core, the vital engine that moves the entire economy along, would gradually vanish. Yes, the upper class would thrive (and it has) but the lower and middle classes would increasingly need more government help (and they have).

At some point, don’t we have to look in the mirror? China didn’t eat our jeans; we made choices. Companies made choices. They put a finger in the air and saw what we the American consumers would tolerate. They got us hooked on China (and India, Indonesia, Mexico, on and on it goes); thereafter imports became our addiction.

Can we quit? I was out shopping last night in search of a simple red sweater to wear on Christmas Eve. I’d searched online for an American-made option. Couldn’t find anything I liked. You know how this story ends. We all live it everyday. I made a choice. I’m not thrilled about the imported red sweater in the Banana Republic bag, but there you have it.

That said, we can keep trying. A t-shirt here, a space heater there. I do believe these small purchases, over time, accumulate and send a powerful message. Reshoring (returning manufacturing back to the United States) is the wave of the future. When asked, the majority of American businesses say there’s no place like home.

Even better news: Some companies never left in the first place. So for the final of CAMJ’s Twelve Days of Christmas, let’s salute the admirable makers of genuine American jeans; jeans actually manufactured here. I’m sure there are more, but here are a few. If you look for sales, especially this time of the year, you can find good deals on the pricier brands. All American Clothing continues to offer the best price point. I’m not including American Apparel (Los Angeles, CA) for reasons discussed at length in an earlier post (the situation’s only deteriorated further). 

Here’s a thought: Imagine if we put these companies (and the retailers that carry their products) on our holiday card list, sent each CEO a note (or email) to say “Thanks for making your jeans here!” Hundreds of encouraging messages would arrive. It’d be cool. 

Check out these brands’ jeans:

True Religion Brand Jeans (Los Angeles, CA). Online and in stores.


True Religion Brand Jeans women's "Whiskey Blues" ($198)

NYDJ (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans; Los Angeles, CA). Available in retail stores. Check the labels. NYDJ manufactures some styles in China.


NYDJ's Marilyn Straight Leg ($120)


Citizens of Humanity (Huntington Park, CA) jeans can be found in retail stores throughout the country. Here’s a pair currently on sale at Anthropologie.


Citizens of Humanity "Dixie" (originally $209; now $59.95)

 7 for All Mankind (Los Angeles, CA). Available online and in retailers.

7 for All Mankind men's "Venice Sky" ($109)

  All American Clothing (Arcanum, Ohio). Available online only.  


All American Straight Leg Jean ($48.99)


All American Clothing Ladies Phoenix Jean ($49.99)


Have a wonderful Christmas!

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