Who Manufactured It Best? A Tale of Two Blouses.

The lavender's in bloom, the air's sweet and warm. It's late spring.

Yesterday, after more than a year blogging and hunting for products made here in our little 3.79 million square-mile neighborhood, I found myself hankering (now there's a word I've never used before) for a new blouse. Something feminine and pretty, something to celebrate the sunshiny sweetness of the season. And it mattered not a whit where the aforementioned blouse had been manufactured, just so it landed in my closet. Bring it on. Then I checked my email. Big mistake. The AAM (Alliance for American Manufacturing) had sent this:

The latest monthly U.S. trade figures were released this morning by the Department of Commerce: In March 2012, the U.S. racked up an international goods and services trade deficit of $51.8 billion, up from $45.4 billion in February. The monthly goods deficit with China rose to $21.7 billion, up from $19.4 billion in February.

Said Scott Paul, Executive Director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM): "The widening March trade deficit is bad news for the economy. For one thing, the expanding trade deficit means that growth in GDP will be lower. Surging imports from China indicate that we are falling into bad habits again."

Ouch, Mr. Paul. Isn't that "bad habits" comment a bit harsh? Hey, we as Americans are trying. It's just there's not a lot out there to buy, USA-wise, right? Check your own closet. Where were your jeans made? Your suits? Your shoes? Just sayin'.

So I headed out to shop. Don't mind admitting (well, I do but in the spirit of honesty I'll take the plunge here) that I felt defeated. It didn't help that every single clothing item I found in this particular department store--which shall remain nameless because, seriously, all department and big box stores are the same when it comes to this issue--had been manufactured somewhere outside the USA. And it didn't help that I found this really pretty blouse that called out to me saying look at me, wouldn't I be pretty on you this Mother's Day with a pair of white skinny jeans? Here it is:

Never mind that I can't fit into and therefore don't have white skinny jeans, the blouse called to me anyway. It looked much cuter in person than in the above picture, so just trust me here. And worse, at first I thought it had been made here and my heart seriously skipped a beat. Here's why I thought it had been Made in the USA:

See how the cardboard tag says "Lucky Brand Blue Jeans of America: Too Tough to Die"? But mainly what stood out for me was the of America part. Surely a brand wouldn't showcase its American heritage on its logo if its products weren't actually Made in America, right? But no, the tag told a different story:

Nothing against India, but I'd just rather buy Indian brands from India, not American brands from India because then, really, is it of America anymore? And, while we're on the topic, is an American corporation that makes its products offshore really helping create an America that is, as the logo claims, Too Tough to Die? Now I should add that some Lucky Brand jeans are actually made here in the USA, in Vernon, California. If so, why can't the company make all its jeans and tops and products here? I don't know. But I sense a letter to the company forming in my non-skinny, Too Tough to Die American brain.

And yet I didn't put the blouse back. I held onto it, as if in denial that it wasn't what I wanted it to be, as if I had a crush on it and just couldn't face up to the truth. I went from circular rack to circular rack. Zip, zero, nada. And then, when I'd hit rock bottom and was about to go over to the dark side, I stumbled onto a circular rack that had a "Karen Kane" sign posted on it. And I remembered interviewing Karen's son, Michael, back in September, 2011. I recalled he'd said they had been manufacturing in China but had decided to begin manufacturing in southern California again. Wait, could it be? Was that another blouse similar to the Lucky Brand one but even cuter? And the shopping skies opened and poured forth this heavenly Karen Kane item:

But had it, as promised months earlier by Michael Kane, actually really truly been Made in the USA? Take a look:

I actually got kind of emotional, reading that tag, seeing that label inside the blouse. I wanted to grab other shoppers and have them look, too. I'll send a note to Michael Kane, to thank him and the Karen Kane brand for returning the majority of its manufacturing to Los Angeles.

You know how US magazine has that snarky, obnoxious-yet-fun-in-a-sick-way feature called Who Wore It Best? Maybe it's time for CAMJ to do a "Who Manufactured It Best?" feature. Yes, the Karen Kane blouse cost $20 more than the Lucky Brand blouse. But considering the high cost of unemployment in this country, what's the true cost of that Lucky Brand blouse? Besides, the Karen Kane blouse won the contest, hands down, in the comfort department. It felt better on. The fabric seemed to breathe better. Who Manufactured It Best? Congratulations, Karen Kane. Job well done!