Hometown USA events import their pride
What do our race T-shirt labels say about us?
Even before anyone else told me, I knew. I could tell by the way the bureau drawer bottom and side slats bowed. Not another race event T-shirt could be stuffed in without causing an explosion. Time to thin the herd. This go around, though, after listening to the Ed Schultz Show, I decided to see how many of my race T-shirts and jerseys were made in the USA.
Out of the 21 in the drawer, only three were made in the USA. (Four if you count my Silent Sports T-shirt.) Yet every race T-shirt touted itself as a hometown USA or regional event, many using the word "American" or the letters "USA" as part of their logo's motif. Hometown race events overwhelmingly include in their goodie bags T-shirts made in Nicaragua, Honduras and other polysyllabic countries.
My hometown has a popular race I won't name for reasons I'll disclose later on, that makes a point of touting its hometown USA roots and organization, even as its goodie bag technical shirts are made in Vietnam. I sent an email to the race organizers about this and they responded by saying if I could find a manufacturer in the states that has a proven track record of making race event technical shirts to let them know and they'd be happy to consider it.
I couldn't help but notice how itty-bitty Vietnam is compared to, say, Wisconsin, let alone all of the United States, and that Vietnam is 12,000 miles away. And although the organizers of this local event were able to find a manufacturer in Vietnam, they apparently needed me and my Internet access to help them find a worthy manufacturer stateside.
I went to the web site MadeInTheUSAForever.com and readily found a company named Wickers that has been in business for over 20 years, manufacturing clothing using technical and natural materials for the likes of Lands End, REI and others, until such retailers went to foreign manufacturers. Wickers had to accommodate to survive and has a military clothing market line as well as more traditional lines. Their bulk pricing was as low or lower than foreign manufacturers. And, while talking to a Wickers representative, I learned that they had provided well-made shirts for four or five race events in recent years.
I told my hometown race organizers about Wickers but they rejected the company's offerings because they didn't see race shirts specifically displayed on the Wickers' website. They refused to call the company to make inquires even though I provided the toll-free number. They had no response to the question as to why they felt their Vietnam-made design of a runner's silhouette was somehow more complex than Wicker's 20 years of proven ability to produce military and other insignias on technical gear.
I sent the names of five more companies manufacturing in the United States that I found easily. I got no response from the race organizers. I'll keep trying.
Beyond still holding out hope that the race organizers will make the switch, I looked in my drawers and my garage for evidence of a commitment to that which is "Made in the U.S." In the latter I had trouble seeing past a Nissan and a Toyota. My high horse, so it seems, has very short legs.
When I shop, I do not have the habit of looking at the where-they-are-made labels. Recently I did, at clothing in two well-known department stores. In the first store, out of 30 randomly selected items of clothing, three had made-in-USA labels on them and 27 had made-elsewhere labels. At the other store I could find nothing made in America. I also noticed no other shopper bothering to look at the labels.
Stewing in my self-righteous disgust, I drove my Nissan home, took a glass out of my made-in-Taiwan dishwasher, opened a brewed-in-Germany beer, and thought about what I could do at my made-in-Mexico family room table.
The Levis I wore were not made in America. Neither were any of my Fruit of the Looms. It seems Honduras has the male underwear market cornered. I've since bought jeans and sweaters from the MadeInTheUSAForever.com website, and like all the items so far.
I've wondered if the United States is the only country like this. We growl about the economy and get nasty over the other guy's politics, but we make no demands from our retail outlets let alone check labels on products. It's as if we don't care or don't care to know how much economic power we have within our own wallets.
Go ahead, check your race event goodie bag shirts. See where they're made. If they're not made in the USA, contact your race organizers. Encourage the hometown race to become more truly hometown. And please ignore my Japanese cars in the process.
So, while I was at it, I went into my basement to check out my cross-country ski gear. I looked closely at my Swix-branded, high-tech cross-country ski pants. Swix - a company long ago founded in Sweden before taking full root in Norway. What does the Swix pants label say? "Made in China."
Bruce Steinberg is a father, husband, lawyer, novelist, skier and runner in St. Charles, Illinois.
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