[Read the update on USA WORKS, February 22, 2006]
[Update: December 7, 2005: As of this date, Sapko, makers of USA Works Jeans, has not placed a statement on their website about their intentions to restart jeans production in the USA. In addition, Hanks Clothing, which had been offering customers the option to specify "American-made only" when ordering USA Works Jeans now tells me that they no longer have sufficient stock of American-made USA Works jeans to offer this option. It was great while it lasted, so thanks to Hanks for making the extra effort...and, note that Hanks still has a Made in USA page to help customers find American-made products that they carry.]
Last year I bought a pair of USA WORKS jeans because I knew they were made in USA. I loved the quality, the colorful red-white-blue patch on the back pocket, and the price (under $20). The colorful pocket card said, “Made by Hard Working Americans for Hard Working Americans.”
My first inkling of trouble was a note on Hanks Clothing.com, where customers were being offered the option of specifying American-made or import versions of USA WORKS. The site mentioned a fire at the jeans factory that had put the company out of commission for the time being.
About a week ago, I received an email from a disappointed consumer who had ordered several pairs of USA WORKS jeans based on information on my site that they were made in USA. When the jeans arrived, the label said “Made in China.”
I did some investigating, and here’s the scoop. The USA WORKS jeans were made in a factory in Tompkinsville, KY by Sapko International Inc. (headquartered in Sturtevant, WI). In February 2005, there was a fire at the plant and it was heavily damaged. Sapko’s head of supply chain management, Chris Baumgarner, tells me that the company intends to rebuild the Tompkinsville plant as soon as they settle things with their insurance companies. However, he estimates that restart of production at the facility might not occur until mid-2007.
In the mean time, the company felt that it needed to continue to produce USA WORKS jeans to meet the needs of its retailers and customers. According to Baumgarner, “The importation of USA WORKS is not our favorite choice, but due to limited USA production it was our only choice.”
Sapko brands also include FiveBrother work shirts, many of which are made in USA, and Williams Bay outdoor clothing, made in Wisconsin.
The temporary importation of USA WORKS jeans poses a dilemma for both retailers and customers. “Buy American” retailers, such as AmericanMadeForYou, have decided not to carry imported USA WORKS jeans although this brand was a substantial part of their offerings. Others, including Hank's Clothing, have continued to offer customers the option of specifying that they will accept only American-made USA WORKS, understanding that their order may not be filled.
Consumers face a similar dilemma. Do we continue to support the company by buying their products, even though imported (at least partially from China), because of their commitment to rebuild their US sewing factory? Or do we switch out allegiance to other jeans manufacturers that are still producing in USA (e.g., Union Jean, PointerBrand)?
I think this is an important discussion to have, and I’m not sure what the answer is. However, I feel that we owe the company some loyalty during a tough time. Think about the issues, then vote in the poll to the right. I also encourage you to post a comment to share your reasoning with others.