What's the Value of American-Made Gifts? Priceless.

More than 500 people have died in Bangladesh factory fires since 2006, according to estimates by labor groups…Authorities have begun to review the nation's 5,000 registered garment factories…

As foreign retailers slash prices to attract shoppers, Bangladeshi factories have to produce for less…

Labor groups said factory owners, a number of whom sit in Parliament, have blocked efforts to improve working conditions and have sought to ensure that a ban on unionization in garment factories remains in place.

"When we spoke up, we had our organization license revoked," said Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Work Solidarity…

…about five new factories open a month, making it difficult for Western retailers to keep tabs on where their clothes are coming from…

--After Factory Fire, Pressure on Bangladesh to Improve Safety, Wall Street Journal


Here's a fantasy: Imagine that yesterday's Wall Street Journal (December 15, 2012, quoted above) instead read: After Bangladesh Factory Fire Kills 112 Workers, U.S. Retailers Admit It's Time to Bring Manufacturing Back Home.

Yeah, right. As if that's gonna happen. But what about this: After Bangladesh Factory Fire, Consumer Pressure on American Retailers to Bring Manufacturing Home Mounts.

Baby steps, right? One All American Clothing T- Shirt at a time (come on, it's only $8.99) we can create change. And here's a guarantee: Whatever the product, you'll feel good making a USA-made purchase. Seriously. You may recall that just the other day I ordered two pairs of shearling slippers from Wooly Rascals (one for Santa, one for Mrs. Claus). I'd read about the San Francisco-based company, written about it for this blog, and felt connected to the folks behind the label. My money into this company's hands seemed right. On the same day, browsing at a local department store, I checked out comparable shearling slippers. Made in China; same price as the USA-made Wooly Rascals. I felt even better about my online purchase.

But it's never that simple, is it? Today while shopping at Costco, I spotted other slippers--not real sheepskin, but super cozy-looking faux shearling, Made in China--for $9.99. How can any American manufacturer compete with that? I saw those slippers and thought Wow, I could've saved so much money. What am I doing?

As I drove home, the fresh wreath and cedar boughs (from Oregon) I'd just bought at Costco filled my car with heavenly piney fragrance. The bargain slippers faded from memory. And there, on my front porch, sat a package. Must've arrived yesterday. The return address: South San Francisco. Yup, the Wooly Rascals slippers. What's the value of American-made slippers at Christmastime? As MasterCard would say: Priceless.

Now, on to Day Seven of CAMJ's Twelve Days of Christmas, American Style. Looking for a warm coat to give to some lucky person this Christmas? How about a pea coat?

Consider, if you will, two different brands: L.L. Bean and Sterlingwear of Boston. Both brands make classic (and updated) men's and women's 100% wool pea coats in assorted colors and styles. Both produce beautiful products. But L.L. Bean's pea coats ($189-$249) are manufactured in China. Sterlingwear's pea coats (approximately the same prices as L.L. Bean's) are manufactured in the New England area, where the company employs 250 workers. Here's one of my favorites:

Sterlingwear Brittany Pea Coat ($195)

Turns out Sterlingwear is the official manufacturer pea coats for the United States Navy. From the company's website:

Sterlingwear of Boston, Inc., has been the manufacturer of the official United States Navy pea coat for over 40 years. Started as Viking Clothing in 1965, now in its third generation of leadership, this family-owned and operated business has evolved into a state-of-the-art clothing manufacturing company, employing over 250 men and women in the New England area.

In addition to serving the needs of our brave servicemen and women, we are proud to offer a commercial line of superior outerwear to you, our customer. We have taken the skills and craftsmanship of our loyal and dedicated union workforce, the very best of domestic and imported materials, along with the exact quality control standards required by the United States government and created an outstanding line of outerwear for the entire family.

Sterlingwear of Boston is pleased to offer an alternative to foreign imports and to have created a brand that serves both fashion and function. Needless to say, we are very confident that you will find the Sterlingwear brand of pea coat and outwear to be as outstanding in style, craftsmanship, and value as we believe it to be.

Given the choice, armed with Sterlingwear's story and pro-American philosophy, wouldn't you choose its pea coats over those made by L.L. Bean? L.L. Bean touts its American roots in marketing campaigns, but long ago chose the offshore route. Currently celebrating its 100th year in business, L.L. Bean's website boasts the company's status as a "global organization" with annual sales of $1.44 billion. It takes pride in its "heritage and values" yet only manufactures a few products in Freeport, Maine (canvas tote bags, shearling boots). Is it too harsh to say L.L. Bean cut and run? After all, some would argue it had been on the verge of financial ruin and now is robust. Consider this: Our country's GDP is stuck at 2%. Unemployment hovers near 8% (with effective unemployment in the double-digits). What's the true cost of L.L. Bean's decision to manufacture overseas? Inestimable.

If you don't need a pea coat but do need a lift, check out Sterlingwear's holiday jingle. Here's a bit:

All of our elves have been

Busy sewing away

Bringing you quality outerwear

Made in the USA!

What's the value of a company corny enough to post a holiday jingle? Priceless.