Consumer choice a factor in foreign clothing imports

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To some, “Made in the USA” has become both a rallying cry to renewed U.S. manufacturing power and a sign of civic pride. Shouldn’t we put America first?

Unfortunately, a small experiment in retail seems to be introducing doubt to the concept.

AmericanApparel.com, owned by Gildan Activewear Inc., launched a “you decide” option in August that offered customers the choice between buying its products for a lower price if made abroad or a higher price if made domestically, the Winston-Salem Journal’s Richard Craver reported on Monday.

For example, a fine jersey crewneck T-shirt could be had for $18 or $22, depending on point of production. Likewise, a unisex flex fleece zip hoodie: $38 offshore, $48 domestic.

It seems, despite civic pride, the bargain price is winning.

“The truth is that most people are gravitating to the better value,” Glenn Chamandy, Gildan’s chief executive, told Bloomberg News last week.

Gildan Activewear is actually a Montreal-based manufacturer, but with a local presence. It owns yarn production operations in Mocksville, Eden and Salisbury.

The clothing is identical in every way except for the point of production — either in southern California or at an offshore plant in Central America — according to Garry Bell, Gildan’s vice president of corporate communications and marketing.

“Both are sweatshop-free ... identical in quality ... ethically made regardless of location ... difference in price,” according to the marketing pitch. But more are buying the less expensive option.

Bell stressed, though, that “the performance of the Made in the USA collection is still being evaluated,” the Journal reported.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released in July found that 70 percent of Americans think it is “very important” or “somewhat important” to buy U.S.-made products, the Journal reported.

However, when it comes to paying more for U.S.-made goods, 37 percent said they’d refuse, 26 percent said they’d be willing to pay up to 5 percent more and only 21 percent said they’d be willing to pay 10 percent more.

Ideally, one could buy American-made goods at the same or lower prices than those made across the border. But competition from China and other countries, which are able to produce goods less expensively, is one of the reasons our manufacturing base shrunk in the first place.

“Buy local” programs are popular among both senior citizens and hip millennials who see the advantages of supporting unique local merchants, who spend their profits in their own communities, rather than chain stores that ship profits away.

But there’s a limit, and it seems to be at the border. It may be that the only thing some love more than the U.S. — is a good bargain.