Made In The U.S.A.

My funky underpants volume goes to 11.

In Adventures on February 22, 2009 at 6:51 am

I was folding my laundry when it occurred to me: I wonder where my underpants are made?

I quickly formed a hypothesis: If you’re an American man and you wear underwear, you’re probably not wearing American-made underwear. I base this assumption on a couple of other assumptions.

1. Hanes, Jockey and Fruit of The Loom probably have the underpants market cornered.

2. Hanes, Jockey and Fruit of The Loom underpants are probably not made in America.

Sure enough, a little research revealed to me that those American underpants makers don’t make their underpants in America. That’s unfortunate.

At EmergingTextiles.com, I learned that as of 2005 60% of the American underpants market came from Central America. Three countries, to be exact: Dominican Republic, Honduras and El Salvador.

The article also mentioned some interesting facts about Chinese underpants in America:

China was the fifth largest supplier to the US of underpants in the first half of the year, behind India in fourth place.

And it also included this, perhaps my favorite pull quote I’ve ever seen:

The US has since responded to the Chinese underpants surge with embargoes effective from 5th July which should give competitors extra breathing space.

There’s a pretty badass underpants import volume chart from the site as well. [See below.] I still don’t know how many come from the States, though.

I do know that I can get American Apparel clothing made in Los Angeles. Their specialty is, or was, underpants. But they’re also really pricey and kinda pretentious. Their t-shirts are definitely comfortable, though.

Curious about how things have changed in the last three or four years, I dug some more. I still couldn’t find out recent underpants data, but I did find some recent labor statistics from the same site. I’ll post another of their charts below. As I read it, it’s a bit horrifying. No wonder so many of my Christmas gifts came from Bangladesh: their average apparel manufacturing labor costs are the “best” in the world. Only 22 cents an hour.

Extrapolating a bit thanks to the convenient breakdown of the chart, for every $100 of apparel labor you spend in Bangladesh, you’d be spending double by the time you’re at the sixth-highest paying country, Indonesia. You have to get down to the 12th spot, Nicaragua, before you make a buck an hour.

Just for reference, U.S. federal minimum wage is $6.55.

The list below stops at #40. Hungary. Where you make $4.45 an hour to make clothes for Americans.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, but I’m feeling a little nauseous. Is 22 cents an hour, no matter how nice the conditions and health plan and break time and company perks, inherently a sweatshop?

There’s a site called SweatFree Communities. It advocates 0n behalf of sweatshop workers around the globe to improve their working conditions and form unions. Looks like they need the help too. One of the first stories on the site is of a Weldon Spring company–not much more than walking distance from St. Louis–operating Puerto Rican clothing manufacturing facilities in which the clothing manufacturers aren’t feeling real keen on the company’s business practices. Not being paid, no sick days, that sort of thing. So the workers are suing.

Best of all, the site includes a Shop with a Conscious guide. It’s a guide of guides, if you will, enabling like minded buyers to buy from makers who avoid sweatshops. Looks like there aren’t a lot of American manufacturers on that list (though there are certainly some), but it is a nice resource for buying imported goods that at least resemble fair trade and fair compensation for workers wherever they may be.

Still: nobody’s talking about how many underpants come from China. More digging. Digging. Digging…

I found it: a report online called Men’s Underwear In The United States in 2008. Perfect! And I can buy it for only… 3000 Euros. Awesome. Based on the Table of Contents, it’s got the info I want. But I’m not paying. How about a link and another excellent excerpt?

The mens underwear category may be in a funk, but that does not mean there is a shortage of opportunities.

You heard it here first: mens underwear is funky. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

###

underpants volume

labor costs

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  1. I wish you had warned me that men’s underwear is funky. It would have saved me 3000 Euros. I just started reading your blog today and very much enjoy it. Intersting that I was researching existing websites under the word “mitusa” (which resulted in fuel and lift pump links), then “mitusa style” (apparently its a kind of cunnilingus technique that no one can explain how the slang originated) and yours was the first link. I just wanted to know who was looking out for “Made In The USA” products and learned far more about the unintended risks of using acronyms when searching on the internet. Thank you Al Gore.

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