Levi’s: Made in Lesotho. But You Knew That, Right?

Lesotho. Say it three times. Think Colin Firth as George VI in the movie “The King’s Speech.” Lesotho Lesotho Lesotho. There’s a tongue-twister for you. And where oh where in the world is it, anyway? I’ve never been good at geography, so right there in the checkout line at Big 5 Sporting Goods I ask my husband, former stamp-collector Richie Cunningham / Don. “Ever heard of Lesotho?” He scratches the top of his head, squints. “Lesotho…Lesotho…didn’t it used to be Botswana? Or no, that’s not it…Basutoland…?” What can I say? Stamp collecting creates genius. Looked online to confirm and yes, Lesotho is the former Basutoland.

So anyway there we are, Michelle, Genius-Don and I, inching to the cash register, label-checking the items Michelle needs to buy. We face yet another dilemma. Not one of the items Michelle needs for her college PE class is USA-made. Russell Athletic shorts: “Made in Lesotho.” A different pair of shorts, by Soffee: “Made in El Salvador.” Adidas warm-up jacket and pants: “Made in China.” Nike gym bag: “Made in China.” When we first walked into Big 5 and saw round racks of shirts and pants and jackets crammed together, I thought Well, there has to be something Made in the USA here. I checked and re-checked and finally gave up. Much as she wants to, as a student Michelle’s ability to participate in this Buy-American experiment is limited. She can’t spend her days researching where to buy a USA-made gym bag.

Earlier, we’d gone to Target to find Michelle’s replacement microwave oven. You may recall (if you’ve been following this blog from the beginning) that we bought the first one, made by GE in Malaysia, at Home Depot on December 31st. Within weeks, it broke. We had no choice but to replace it with an exact duplicate. That one broke too. This time around, Don thought maybe we’d have more choices at Target. Home Depot isn’t really the go-to place for small appliances. As Michelle and Don looked for microwaves, I perused the kids’ clothing. I have three nieces, aged five to ten, who love all kinds of clothes. Maybe I could find them some cute Valentine’s Day t-shirts. Yes, Target has plenty of cute clothing, but try finding anything made here in the good old USA: Cherokee sweaters: China. Disney t-shirts: China. Circo pajamas: Vietnam. Champion leggings: El Salvador. Cherokee snowboard pants: China. Cherokee swimsuits: China. Clothing was overwhelmingly Made in China.

I slunk over to the small electrical appliances. Low level panic had set in. My lord, we’d only been at this for a few weeks and already this quest to seek, find, and buy products made in America seemed–dare I think it?–irrelevant. Did anyone other than me and my two partners-in-crime care? I looked at Don and Michelle, on their knees, turning over one after another microwave box. “Wait, I think I found it, Dad. It says…oh shoot, Made in China…” Made me proud, seeing how determined they were. Made me think of how my Dad always used to smile and say to my Mom: “Lucy, look what we started.” I want to tell him the same thing. Dad, look what you started.

And yet, after looking at every single microwave manufacturer Target carries, nothing was made in the USA. Here’s the rundown: Sunbeam: China. Emerson: China. Oster: China. Panasonic: China. GE: China. We decided on the one by Oster. Michelle liked the stainless steel color. And it didn’t have the push-in door-opener that had been such a problem with the two made by GE. On our way to the checkout line, I saw something called “Urine Gone!” carpet cleaner. Our 15-year-old Border terrier pooch has bladder control issues, so we definitely needed this product. “Where’s it made?” asked Michelle. The two of us squinted at the tiny print at the bottom of the black plastic spray bottle. “Made in USA.” Ok then, America. As our President would say, “This is our Sputnik moment.” If we can manufacture a product that “effectively removes new or old urine stains and odors from washable surfaces and fabrics,” then by gum we can manufacture a microwave oven right here in the USA, too. Can’t we? Oh come on. Say it with me now: Yes, we can.

PS: Turns out Levi’s jeans are–like Russell Athletic apparel–made in Lesotho. And did you know that in 2010 Levi’s launched a Made in USA line of its original 501 jeans ($148) exclusively for Brooks Brothers? However, according to Wall Street Journal’s Eric Felten (” ‘Fake Authenticity’ for Sale”, January 28, 2011) because Levi’s no longer operates a single American factory, it had to “outsource production even here in the US.” By the way, where is the outsourced factory? Los Angeles. I didn’t know that when I ended my last post. So maybe my whacky idea about having Levi’s take over the American Apparel factory and thereby make ALL its jeans here in the USA again isn’t that whacky after all.   

PPS: In the 1990s, according to a US Department of Labor website, five to 15 percent of the labor force in Lesotho’s garment factories were children aged 12 to 15.  Hopefully that’s changed, but I doubt it. Just one more reason to push for clothing to be made right here at home.

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4 Responses to Levi’s: Made in Lesotho. But You Knew That, Right?

  1. Julia says:

    Just a few thoughts. We, too, have been avoiding China’s (and many other foreign countries’) products for over a decade and have been about 90% successful. Another option is to do the indirect method. We do a lot of thrift store shopping. You can find many older American-made objects. And, on occasion, I end up with Chinese-made goods, albeit second-hand, which is less stain on my conscience. For food shopping, local farmer’s markets, and exchanging with others who garden is very useful. I find it ridiculous, for example, that I live in California, but my grocery stores (including Whole Foods) sell garlic, okra and other vegetables from China. Or even rice. California has plenty of these items – wouldn’t it be more economical and eco-friendly to sell buy local? Being a mom of teenagers and a preschooler is a challenge. I see a continued shift of people buying crap goods from countries whose methods I despise and a attitude of why waste money on buying American products.

  2. Nancy says:

    Teens,

    Heard you on the radio this am…amazing. You were great!

    Nancy

  3. Craig says:

    I’m quite familiar with your subject of China’s manufacturing base. In fact, I have experienced great hardsip with my business relationships for medium to large manufacturers. Since 1995 I slowly saw them dropping away, Nike, Jansport backpack, etc…..
    I am a component supplier to such manufactures in the textile arena, as we were really the first Industry to be sent overseas. I will have you know however, US owned Companies invested heavily in China, by financing the building of factories in China. China was not even required to invest in the buidling cost of their Industrial infrastructure. We are fools, and greedy fools at that! Much more to tell, how can I get in touch with you?

  4. Julie says:

    I am an American living in South Africa, and am STRUGGLING to find any clothes here not made in China. (for me, I’m looking for South African made, to support local industry here, as the Chinese market has almost destroyed the South African textile/clothing industry). I was excited to read that Levi’s are made in Lesotho, as buying those will be like supporting local for me.
    FYI to the blog author, Lesotho is not “Lesotho, South Africa”. Lesotho is a sovereign country. South Africa is a different sovereign country.