Got an email from a reader yesterday, saying that she feels really inspired to be more selective when she’s shopping, and to seek out American-made clothing, but that she often can’t find any country of origin information about the shirt, skirt, dress or whatever at hand. So what to do?

The provenance of a garment is not always immediately know-able the way the size and the maker name is. The Federal Trade Commission established some guidelines for country of origin labeling; if you’re in the mood for a really dry yet reasonably brief primer, you can read about them here. In short, all garments entering and exiting the United States must carry a tag stating where they were manufactured.

The problem is that you won’t always find a country of origin tag unless you go looking for it in an inside side seam. I suspect that some lines, like Clu – pictured above, put their Made in America tags front and center as a point of pride. (And then you have more wordy — even "cute" tags — like the one pictured below in a jacket by a Vancouver designer, that are hidden in the seam but really very wink-wink, nudge nudge about the information.)

So then does it follow that those Made in China tags that you’ll eventually find hiked up in some netherland-ish region are put there out of, well, the opposite of pride?

I think so, yeah.

Except that it’s not always that easy. After talking with several apparel manufacturers, one of whom was half of the Rag & Bone design team, the other was my brother-in-law, who has spent the last fifteen years of his life traveling back and forth to China to oversee the fabrication of athletic shoes and apparel for high end sporting brands, I’ve learned how difficult it is to have most things made in America. I still think it’s entirely worthy to support the cause — to seek out goods made and designed at home, but I know that the easy-to-use Chinese structure, for example, cannot be unbuilt in a day, and new factories and systems cannot be snapped together here in an instant either.

So – the short answer to Erica, the reader who wrote in with the very worthwhile query, is to check the inside seams. The tag will be there. But do engage the shop owner or salesperson as well; oftentimes they might know, for example, that some of the piece work was done here, and then, say, assembled in Mexico. Or they might know that "Made in Mexico" actually means the scarf was hand-knit by a group of artisans, not slapped together by seven year-olds in a sweat shop.

And, of course, the smaller the shop, and the smaller the lines represented there, the more intimate the knowledge about where and how the work on each garment was done.

The point is to look, and to ask, and to continue using your dollars where they matter most.

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