50 in 50: Arkansas / Top 5 Picks for Great Products Made in “The Natural State”

Top 5 Picks for Great Products Made in “The Natural State”

#1) Arkansas-Grown Cotton

Mature Cotton Bolls, Arkansas

Mature Cotton Bolls, Arkansas

You’d think it’d be easy to find Arkansas-made cotton apparel. After all, the Natural State ranks 3rd in the nation for its cotton production: In 2014, 335,000 acres were planted, yielding 820,000 bales of cotton. So why is it that–when I Googled “made in Arkansas apparel”–very little came up? Because most of the state’s cotton–and most of our country’s cotton–is shipped to other countries where cheap labor and apparel manufacturing go hand-in-hand. Our inexpensive jeans with the Made in China / Vietnam / Bangladesh labels inside? They may be made of cotton grown in Arkansas. Go figure.

#2) Vodka and Whiskey: Rock Town Distillery

Rye whiskey barrels, Rock Town Distillery

Rye whiskey barrels, Rock Town Distillery

Thanks to reader Wendy (of Washington State) for letting me know about her favorite Arkansan product, Rock Town Vodka, calling it “dangerously good.” Turns out that Rock Town’s nationally recognized for its award-winning whiskey. The brainchild of Arkansas native Phil Brandon, Rock Town Distillery opened in 2010. Brandon has a passion for whiskey and for his home state. All ingredients are sourced in Arkansas.  “We are in the South, we have great grains, great climate, so put all that together, with good skilled distilling, and great barrels and we can turn out some great whiskey,” Brandon said in an interview found online. “We’ve got over 6,000 gallons of whiskey aging here in Little Rock, Arkansas.” The company currently ships products to 16 states and the United Kingdom. You can also purchase a few products online at Binny’s Beverage Depot.  Wendy, I don’t see your vodka on Binny’s list. Good excuse to head to Arkansas, take the uber-popular Rock Town Distillery tour. Cheers!

#3) Knife Sharpening Stones: Dan’s Whetstone

Arkansas Dan's EZ Hone Whetstone

Arkansas Dan’s EZ Hone Whetstone

From the website: Dan’s EZ Hone offers a new and simple approach to mastering the art of knife sharpening. It is so simple that even a novice sharpener can achieve a keen, sharp edge. The end blocks are designed with reference angles cut in so that the user will have a reference for each and every stroke, while eliminating that occasional steep angle which can counteract any improvement. Dan’s Whetstone is the only complete producer and supplier of all natural Arkansas whetstone grades including the genuine black Arkansas novaculite. We are an American owned and operated whetstone company overseeing the process from quarry to finished product since 1976.

#4) Aprons: American Native

American Native Denim Apron

American Native Denim Apron

Don’t ask me the price of this man-cave-friendly apron (okay, it’s $185…gasp…), just go ahead and read the brand’s story, which asks visitors to its website the question: “Does it get any more American than this?” I would have to say yes: My Italian-immigrant Nana whipped up aprons by the dozen on her Singer sewing machine, in between playing the stock market. She used cotton floral fabric made in Los Angeles. I still use those aprons. Back to American Native: “This industrial workshop denim apron is your choice to get the job done with ease. The heavy Cone Mills 12 oz. selvedge denim will help protect your clothes against wood and metal shavings, ink, paint, coffee grinds, dye, or whatever else one may be getting into. The selvedge chest pocket features a pocket big enough for your iPhone, a #2 pencil or pen, and a Sharpie. The big ol’ leather* pocket spans 13″ across and 7″ deep, with copper rivets to reinforce the corners…Handcrafted with pride in Fayetteville, AR.”

#5) Cuz a Girl’s Gotta Have a Little Bling: Bella Vita Jewelry

Bella Vita Jewelry

Bella Vita Jewelry

Little Rock, Arkansas, designer Brandy Thomason McNair creates “artisan jewelry with an eye for design and a love of all things vintage…a piece of jewelry that already has a story.” I love that idea. Retelling a story, in a new way, through beautifully-made charms and bangles and necklaces. Talented Brandy goes on “treasure hunts” all over the country  searching for “lockets, gemstones, chains–materials with meaning continually inspire my designs and give Bella Vita Jewelry that authentic feel, like a patina…whether small and simple or a statement piece, a little bit of Bella Vita Jewelry helps you tell your story, too.” Read how Brandy turned a hobby into a career–both online and now with her own bricks-and-mortar retail store–here.

Farewell, Arkansas. It’s almost 5 o’clock and I wouldn’t mind a sip o’ Rock Town Vodka. But I’m from Cali. My glass of chilled KJ Chardonnay awaits…which reminds me: Next Up: the Golden State. Home sweet home.

PS: I like this “Top 5 Picks” format. Hope you do, too. But should I change the project’s title from “50 in 50” to “250 in 50”? Suggestions welcome!

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PS: Hey, Arizona…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Short, sweet (pun intended) post. Couldn’t leave the Grand Canyon State in the copper-colored desert dust without remembering that it was admitted to the USA on Valentine’s Day: February 14, 1912. See? If I hadn’t started this project, I never would’ve known that. Makes it all worthwhile.

One other non-Arizona, Valentine’s Day factoid: according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. How tough is it to turn a card over first to be sure it’s been made in the USA? Unfortunately, American brands like Hallmark and Papyrus increasingly make their cards in China. The imported greeting cards are easily spotted: see the ones with faux jewels on them or a musical component or ribbons and other decorative embellishments? Most likely made in faraway factories under who-knows-what conditions. Okay, I’m stepping down off my CAMJ soapbox.

Besides, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day–and give a heartfelt (because everything today is about hearts, right?) shout-out to Eileen Spitalny, David Kravetz and the magical elves over at Fairytale Brownies in Arizona. Your yummy brownies and cookies arrived safe and sound and fresh as can be. The hardworking trio in Don’s office are going home with oodles of delicious treats to share with their friends and families…

Fairytale Brownies

Fairytale Brownies

Don's office manager Cheryl

Don’s office manager Cheryl

Jocelyn

Jocelyn

Ashley

Ashley

Have a relaxing evening, everyone. And if you have a tip on Arkansas…help!

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50 in 50: Arizona

We had no system. We didn’t even know that we’d started a manufacturing company. We just wanted to bake the best brownies in the world and be friends and have a good time…
Eileen Spitalny and David Kravetz, Co-Founders, Fairytale Brownies, Arizona

Fairytale Brownies

Fairytale Brownies

Mention Arizona and I’m 13 again. It’s spring break and Dad’s decided to rent an enormous Winnebago–with its airplane-worthy windshield–and drive Mom and five of us kids to the Grand Canyon (my two older brothers stay behind, my two youngest siblings haven’t yet been born). In between stops for gas every 100 miles or so, my siblings and I play card games. Dad finally parks our behemoth vehicle, stands and stretches. “Look, kids,” he says, staring out the window. “Isn’t it something?” We tumble outdoors, stand at the Canyon’s edge. No one talks. I remember light and shadows, pink and purple hues and warm, dry air. At night the stars seem close enough to touch. “Kids, this is paradise.”

As I researched Arizona products this week, Dad kept popping into my head. Especially on Wednesday, when Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich announced from the White House that his company will invest $7 billion to complete “Fab 42,” a high-volume factory. Intel says it will be “the most advanced semiconductor factory in the world.” Already the number one employer in Chandler, Arizona, Intel’s new factory will create an additional 3,000 high-skilled, high-paying jobs in that community.

In my prior life–before launching CAMJ–Intel’s announcement would’ve whizzed past me. Yawn. Who cares? But now the wonders of USA-made microprocessors powering data centers and hundreds of millions of smart and connected devices all over the world ranks right up there with the wonders of the Grand Canyon. I’m awestruck. The late great Andy Grove, “Titan of Tech,” former COO / CEO of Intel, tireless cheerleader for domestic manufacturing (and, as some may recall, my nominee for Captain America), must be doing cartwheels in heaven. I know this sounds crazy, but I can picture Andy and Dad and other dreamers and makers congregating in heaven, sketching ideas on endless reams of paper.

Here you might ask: what’s with the quote at the top of this post? Who are Eileen Spitalny and David Kravetz? What have their melt-in-your-mouth chocolate brownies got to do with microchips?

David Kravetz and Eileen Spitalny

David Kravetz and Eileen Spitalny, Co-Founders of Fairytale Brownies

Well, Dad used to talk about how we in this country are all interconnected. How if we cut off one appendage–a factory here, another there–unintended negative consequences will follow, eventually affecting everyone. The loss of an Intel factory in Chandler, Arizona, for example, would affect hundreds of other businesses throughout the area, including those in neighboring Phoenix. Intel currently employs 11,300 people in Chandler. These employees and their families need countless goods and services. They need housing, food, medical care, clothing, cars, and furniture. And yes, they need yummy, chocolate treats. Cue Fairytale Brownies.

Founded in 1992, Phoenix-based Fairytale Brownies is now one of the nation’s largest gourmet mail-order brownie and cookie companies, with over 7 million brownies shipped worldwide a year. But in the beginning it was just David and Eileen, two kindergarten buddies, eating David’s mom’s home-baked chocolate brownies, still warm, at the Kravetz kitchen table after school. The two native Arizonans eventually headed off to colleges in California: David to Stanford to study mechanical engineering and Eileen to University of Southern California (yes, Dad, USC) to study business and Spanish.

After graduating, spending four or five years in their separate corporate worlds and based once again in Arizona, they yearned to be their own bosses. And they loved food. “Food world is fun!” Eileen said in an email. Using David’s mom’s brownies as their inspiration, they wrote up a business plan, pooled $14,000, quit their respective day jobs, and began baking in a Phoenix area catering kitchen at night. Here’s David in an interview with YScouts:

“When we quit our corporate jobs, we didn’t have any wage. And that was for three years. We were full time brownies, no salary for three years. Just living off of savings and family support. Then it took five years for us to be able to pay ourselves back with the same salary we left in the corporate job. It was eight years before the company had a positive net worth. And then it got a little easier and easier after that. But it was really like, five years. And that’s what I tell most entrepreneurs is that it’s usually five years until you’re comfortable to actually pay yourself and not work a million hours a week.”

During those first few years–before today’s direct-to-consumer / online sales–it was the local community that launched David and Eileen’s company. At farmer’s markets and various festival food booths, customers snatched up their product and raved about it. They wanted more, they wanted to mail packages of delicious brownies to friends and family and corporate clients. Eileen and David designed mail-safe packaging (now the company has in house designers and all packaging is custom designed) and began shipping product all over the country.

To further get the word out Eileen utilized her marketing expertise, sending samples and press releases to food editors across the country. When Florence Fabricant of the New York Times gave Fairytale Brownies her stamp of approval, phone orders began pouring in. They ran out of brownies and had to ration them out six at a time. That’s never happened since.  Their hand-made, individually-wrapped brownies–and now cookies–have been featured numerous times on TV news as well as on QVC and The Food Network’s “Unwrapped.” They currently sell 12 varieties of Fairytale Brownies and 6 flavors of Fairytale Cookies and Fairytale Bars. Every brownie contains dark Callebaut Belgian chocolate, premium Grade AA butter, farm fresh eggs, and fluffy cake flour. I’m getting hungry…

Eileen says the entire journey has been amazing. “We are 25 years old this year as a company and my business partner has been a friend since kindergarten. We have many employees who have worked for us over 10 years. We have 40 employees year round and up to 150 at the holidays; a lot of our seasonal help comes back year after year.”

And then she added this: “Fairytale Brownies believes in supporting our local businesses and communities and we give back primarily to KaBOOM! since we met on the kindergarten playground ourselves. Unstructured play is where it is at for kids and adults so our brains can create and think of the impossible. We didn’t know how to bake, we just wanted to be our own boss and create a brand.”

By the way, KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit “dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the lives of all kids.” Since 2001, Fairytale Brownies has contributed more than $200,000, thousands of brownies and cookies, and countless hours volunteering, fundraising and donating for playground builds. In 2011, they built a playground for an elementary charter school that serves the homeless and under served. They will build another playground in Spring 2017.

It’s fun to picture Eileen and David as little kids on the playground, pretending, letting their imaginations carry them away. They always say their Fairytale Brownies have a “dash of magic” in them.

Interesting that Intel says magic plays a part of its process too: “A leading-edge computer chip is the most complex manufacturing process in the world, engineering magic that turns sand into semiconductors, the foundation of the knowledge economy.” Bet some of that “magic” began for Intel engineers as it did for Eileen and David, during trips to the park as kids, free to dig in the sand and think.

If they haven’t already, Intel’s Brian Krzanich and Fairytale Brownies’ David Kravetz and Eileen Spitalny should definitely meet-up, swap stories of magic and invention and microchips and chocolate chips and discuss how, in the great state of Arizona–and in the USA–anything’s possible.

Next up: Arkansas

 

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50 in 50: Alaska

I’ll wake up in the middle of the night during the wintertime and I’ll have just dreamt about that big catch. Robert Beedle, Copper River salmon fisherman

It’s disorienting, this state-to-state relocation, this alphabetically-determined switching of mental gears from the sultry south’s Alabama–birthplace of Harper Lee, heart of the civil rights movement, home to Sock Queen Gina Locklear and Quilting Queen Mary Lee Bendolph–to subarctic Alaska. I’m like a confused tourist, overly-ambitious itinerary in hand, traveling from one virtual reality time zone to another. The title of an old 60’s movie comes to mind. If it’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. Where the heck am I now? And it’s only week two?

american tourists lost in ireland

My plan had been to publish this Alaska post sooner. No time to lose, I told myself. Gotta ignore 24/7 news–real, fake, whatever–gotta push aside Trump’s tweets and Iran’s missiles. Never mind that experts say those missiles might soon be capable of reaching the west coast. Did this mean I should live for the moment, abandon healthy eating; bake a buttery batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies?

chocolate chip cookies

A missile is launched during an Iranian army exercise in central Iran, Thursday, March 14, 2013. Iranian media say the military has test-fired several short-range missiles, including the type Palestinian militant Hamas group used to attack Tel Aviv last November. Thursday's report by the semi-official Fars news agency says the missiles were tested during an army exercise in central Iran. It says the missiles fired were Nazeat-10 and Fajr-5. Iran regularly holds maneuver to test and promote its military power.(AP Photo/Hadi Yazdani)

AP Photo/Hadi Yazdani

With any luck Don and I could scarf them down and squeeze in one more episode of The Crown before the nukes hit. But no, gotta keep going. Gotta stick to low carbs and my China Ate My Jeans / 50 in 50 plan. Cheerleader of the domestic economy to the end, right? Go north, blogger-woman, to Alaska.

north to alaska

And so last week, as I tucked my Gee’s Bend notecards into a drawer and began an online-search for Alaskan-made products, I had to admit that, once again, I’m at a slight disadvantage. Not only is my attention diverted by thoughts of global instability and cookie-binges, but I’ve never been to Alaska, never snapped pics of the Aleutian Islands from the deck of a cruise ship. Don, usually my reliable source of encouragement and information, had zero to say about Alaska except this: “In winter they only get six hours of light. I’d go crazy there.” I pictured a Don-approved tagline for the Alaskan tourism industry:  Alaska. It’ll drive you nuts.

Winter solstice in Anchorage, Alaska

Winter solstice in Anchorage, Alaska

Thankfully my brother-in-law Craig, an avid fisherman, pushed the Alaska-reset button for me. “It’s a sportsman’s paradise. And oh, the colors. They’re so bright and different.” His deep, normally steady voice halted a bit as he tried to convey the awe-provoking images in his mind. Over the years he’s traveled in spring or summer from southern California to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. “The water is this turquoise color from the melting glaciers…it’s truly God’s country.” He tried to explain the seasonality of Alaskan fishing–which time of year to catch halibut, trout, cod. “And then from June on,” he said, “you have your salmon, your reds–your king, your Chinook, your sockeye…”

eat fish live longer

Salmon. Of course. The perfect product to feature this week (and no, this will not lead to a discussion of Alaskan quilts…). When it’s in season, Don and I have fresh wild salmon two or three times a week. It’s easy to grill, delicious, loaded with protein and the omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce heart disease and lower cholesterol. To be honest, until Craig gave me a tutorial, I hadn’t been sure exactly where our salmon originated, other than some mysterious place called the Copper River. Where was that? Oregon? Happily for this week’s blog post, the Copper River runs through south-central Alaska. Here’s a more complete explanation from the experts at copperriversalmon.org:

Dropping an average of 12 feet per mile and draining 24,000 square miles, the Copper River is the tenth largest river in the United States and is the birthplace of some of the world’s most renowned wild Alaskan salmon. Every year from May through September, Copper River king, sockeye and Coho return to the river to make the arduous 300-mile journey up the icy glacial fed waters to spawn in their birthplace. This is no easy task and as a result Copper River salmon are inherently rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, a critical component that fuels their journey and simultaneously creates the naturally rich salmon so coveted by chefs, restaurateurs and seafood lovers around the world.

Copper River salmon–and all Alaskan seafood–is carefully monitored by Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, as specified in the state’s constitution. The goal is sustainability; the continued health of the sea life thriving in Alaska’s vast waters (including the Gulf of Alaska, numerous rivers and more than three million lakes and 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline). The Alaskan seafood industry is–as you-know-who might put it–huge, providing over 78,000 jobs and $5.8 billion in revenue each year.

Copper River’s 540 commercial fishermen (and women; also called fishermen) and their families live in the remote town of Cordova (population 2,000), accessible only by plane or ferry.

cordoba

Each fisherman is an independent small business owner. In a YouTube video, several Copper River fishermen discuss their uniquely challenging and rewarding work. Some fish alone, but for many it’s a family affair. All express a joy and passion, a gratitude for having the good fortune to live and work as fishers of salmon. There’s a reverence about what they do. It’s not a job, it’s a vocation. “This is good work,” one fisherman said. “You’re making food. How much more honorable a job can you have? You’re feeding people. And it’s good food. Really, really good food.”

Many millennial-aged fishermen grew up in Cordova, went off to college–some in Anchorage, others as far away as the east coast–then returned, bringing with them savvy marketing skills and a renewed enthusiasm for work that protects the environment and provides superb food for their country’s population and for people around the world. Some–like husband and wife team Nelly and Michael Hand and siblings Emma and Claire Laukitis, also known as the Salmon Sisters–own their salmon fishing vessels and have their own branded line of salmon-related products, all available online.

Nelly and Michael Hand

Nelly and Michael Hand

 

The Salmon Sisters

The Salmon Sisters

Hard to believe, but there was a time when Copper River salmon wasn’t available in the lower forty-eight states. As recently as the 1980’s, according to The Atlantic, “virtually all the Copper River catch was being exported to Japan at prices so low that fishermen were pulling their boats out of the water and hanging up their nets.” Read more about that here. Just makes you think, doesn’t it, about how we had this treasure-trove of healthful food right here–in our largest state–and, for years, didn’t really quite see it.

If anyone’s willing, I’d love to hear how you prepare Copper River salmon. On her website, Nelly Hand posted her recipe for  Coconut Sockeye Salmon Chowder.  Yum. Pass the chowder. Then, on to chocolate chip cookies…

Nelly Hand's Coconut Sockeye Salmon Chowder

Nelly Hand’s Coconut Sockeye Salmon Chowder

Next up: Arizona.  Suggestions welcome!

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50 in 50: Alabama

These quilts…represent a tradition that has been passed on for a number of generations in a very small area in America, in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. The quilts reflect the history of that area and of this country…[they ask us to] think about genius…where does it reside?
–Dr. Alvia Wardlaw, The Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend

Some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced. Arising not from rarefied Europe, but from the caramel soil of the rural South in the form of women, descendants of slaves when Gee’s Bend was a plantation.
Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times

Work Clothes Quilt with Center Medallion Strips, Annie Mae Young, 1976, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Work Clothes Quilt with Center Medallion Strips, Annie Mae Young, 1976, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I lived in a log-cabin house with about twelve of us children. We used to plaster the house walls with magazines and used to make our sheets out of fertilizer sacks…My daddy brought me some cloth from Camden where they was giving it away…I started cutting and piecing cloth when I was about thirteen, fourteen…I like big pieces and long strips…I liked to sew them however they be. I work it out, study the way to make it, get it to be right, kind of like working a puzzle.
Annie Mae Young (1928-2012)

Alabama-made socks. That’s what this post was supposed to be about. As rain pelts a once-thirsty California, filling our creeks, blanketing our mountains white, chilling our feet, I asked myself: what better time to write about socks?

Yes, what better time to share the story of realtor-turned-sock-artisan Gina Locklear who, in 2015, received Martha Stewart’s coveted American-Made award? A few months later the New York Times crowned Gina, 36, the Sock Queen of Alabama. Perfect title for an entrepreneur raised in Fort Payne, Alabama, a place once called “the Sock Capital of the World.” And for decades, Fort Payne happily kept 300 knitting mills humming and half the population employed, producing one in eight pairs of athletic socks sold globally.

Here–at least this was my original plan–I would have readers think about how something seemingly small and insignificant–the production of a pair of socks–could be life-sustaining. Growing up, Gina and her sister, Emily, would head to their parents’ mill–called Emi-G Knitting–after school to sort socks and play in the bins. Emi-G Knitting’s long-standing deal to make, among other things, Russell Athletic’s cushioned socks paid for the family’s home, cars and the girls’ college educations. Imagine that. All from socks.

But by the mid-2000s, everything changed. “Cheap foreign labor and free-trade agreements made the town a loser in the game of global economics,” the New York Times reports. “Seemingly overnight the mills closed, and the new Fort Payne became a town in China called Datang.” Gina’s father said it was “like a vacuum cleaner pulled all the people out of town.” Today only seven mills remain.

I’d wrap-up this short, simple post by explaining that in 2008, Gina’s “aha” moment struck. Quitting real estate (which she’d never really enjoyed), she instead poured all her energy into the creation of zkano, her unique, colorful brand of 100 percent American-made sustainable organic cotton socks. She rescued her parents’ mill from extinction and saved jobs. And, although she works 24/7, she loves what she’s doing.

Great story. Buh-bye Alabama, it’s been fun, right?

But on MLK Day, staring at the post written above, I couldn’t seem to click “publish” and move on. How could I feature an Alabama-made product on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and ignore MLK and his role in the Civil Rights Movement in that very state? I again searched amazon.com (as if Jeff Bezos has all the answers) for “products made in Alabama,” not really sure why that would help. Up popped a book called The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.  And a boxed set of notecards called Gee’s Bend: The Art of the Quilt. Gee’s what? Quilts? Again? Why?

Sometimes it’s best not to question why life tosses best-laid-plans aside, putting unplanned things in your path. Best not to fight it. Just go with the flow. That’s what Gee’s Bend quilter Mary Lee Bendolph once said: “I just go with the flow. Whatever comes in my mind to do, I just do it.” Snapping this photo of a creek near my house, I pictured Mary Lee Bendolph walking along the banks of the mile-wide, 60-foot deep Alabama River that curves like a horseshoe and winds its way around tiny Gee’s Bend (population in 2011: 275).
creek again

Just go with the flow.

Maybe you’re already familiar with the church-going, gospel-humming women of Gee’s Bend and their miraculous quilts. I knew nothing about them. But soon there I was, immersed in all things Gee’s Bend. I found The Quilts of Gee’s Bend at my local library. Two days later–thanks to Amazon Prime–Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s short, powerful play, Gee’s Bend, arrived on my doorstep. Then came the beautiful notecards. Rain pounding on the roof, head throbbing from the flu, I sipped tea and watched two mesmerizing, uplifting documentaries: The Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend and The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. Next I read Crossing Over, a 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times feature that tells the history of Gee’s Bend through the eyes of quilter Mary Lee Bendolph. She recalls poverty, bigotry and the time Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled all the way to Gee’s Bend on a cold February night, three weeks before Bloody Sunday: “Tears filled his eyes as he shouted, ‘I come over here to Gee’s Bend to tell you–you are somebody.'”

She’d never heard that before. None of the residents of Gee’s Bend had.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit changed “Benders” lives forever. They began making the long journey from Gee’s Bend into segregated Camden and beyond, to again see Dr. King. Prior to the 1960s, a Huck Finn-type ferry service allowed them to leave Gee’s Bend, crossing the Alabama River into all-white Camden (population 1,000). But to push back against the Civil Rights Movement and deny Benders their legal voting rights, Camden’s Sheriff Lummie shut the ferry down. From Crossing Over: “We didn’t close the ferry because they were black,’ Sheriff Lummie was rumored to have said. ‘We closed it because they forgot they were black.'”

Undaunted, Mary Lee and her neighbors set out on horseback or foot, however long it took, to see Reverend King, register to vote, and maybe even defy one of the Jim Crow laws, drinking from the whites-only water fountains. “‘I loved to go over there,’ Mary Lee says, giggling. ‘Just so I could tell the white folks, and Mr. Lummie, ‘You can’t jail us all.'”

Indeed, many were tossed into prison. Others lost their jobs. Some lost their houses. But Dr. King had taught them not to give up, to believe in themselves. And when Martin Luther King Jr. died, the horses from Gee’s Bend pulled his casket in the funeral procession.

mlk funeral

Throughout it all, Mary Lee Bendolph and the multi-generational women of Gee’s Bend sewed quilts. When farming failed, for many years they mass-produced quilts for large department stores like Bloomingdale’s. They didn’t care for that type of assembly-line-style of quilting. They preferred using their memories, their old clothes, the shapes of the windows and doors and colors of the ceilings, the world that surrounded them and reflected their lives. These were the quilts that soared. That originated in their souls. They didn’t realize they were creating art that would, some day, be compared to Matisse and Klee.

In 1998, William Arnett, a collector and curator of African-American vernacular art, came across a photo in Roland Freeman’s 1996 book, “A Communion of Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories.” A woman named Annie Mae Young, in Gee’s Bend, stood next to a quilt-covered woodpile. Quilts were routinely burned in Gee’s bend to keep the mosquitoes away. One quilt in that picture so impressed Arnett that he went door to door all over Gee’s Bend until he finally found Annie Mae Young.

Annie Mae Young with Quilts. From Roland Freeman's book, A Communion of the Spirits, 1996

Annie Mae Young with Quilts. From Roland Freeman’s 1996 book, A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories

At first, Annie Mae wasn’t sure if she’d burned the quilt or not. A few days later she found it (it’s in picture above and at the top of this post). Arnett said he’d like to buy it. Annie Mae said he could have it for nothing. He insisted on buying several of the quilts for a few thousand dollars. “Word quickly spread,” writes Amei Wallach in Smithsonian Magazine, “that there was a crazy white man in Gee’s Bend paying good money for the raggedy old quilts.”

And so began a mission for Bill Arnett that continues to this day through his (and his two sons’) tireless work at the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.  Arnett, who is considered family in Gee’s Bend, shepherded the quilts, saved them from the ash heap, introduced them to curators at major museums throughout the United States. Eventually everyone agreed: these were magnificent works of authentically, uniquely American art.

According to a recent story in the Kansas City Star, about two dozen women on Gee’s Bend continue quilting. The quilting co-op they belong to typically has between 200 and 300 quilts in stock, available for sale. “Oh, they expensive, I can tell you that right now,” [Gee’s Bend quilter] Mary Ann Pettway said. “Prices range from $200 for a wall-hanger. And a twin to queen or king, they’re $900 and up,” she said, adding that one quilt sold for $27,000. “But then someone told me that if Picasso can sell a piece of his work for $35,000 (sic), why can’t I?”

Sounds like the quilters of Gee’s Bend have finally, truly crossed the river, from isolation and segregation to the kind of America we all strive for–land of unfettered opportunity, of free enterprise, of free expression; a place where we’d like to think everyone has an equal shot at a our version of royalty, whether you are Gina Locklear, Sock Queen of Alabama or Mary Lee Bendolph, Queen of Gee’s Bend.

Next up: Alaska.

Enjoy your week!

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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.

pinterest-map-of-usa

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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