Thursday, October 27, 2005

Perspectives from Pumpkin Creek Clothing

Outside the small town of Pinehurst, North Carolina, the family-owned Pumpkin Creek Clothing Company manufactures and sells knit clothing. In addition to a "brick and mortar" store, their great products are available on-line at Pumpkin Creek Clothing and Red H'Attitudes. I love their turtlenecks, which come in lots of colors and are totally soft, 100% cotton. The prices are almost unbelievably low because they have cut out the retail middlemen. In addition to great products at great prices, owners Darrell and Susan Marks care about keeping production in the USA. But, some days they wonder. . .

Does Anyone Really Care About the ”Made In The USA” Label?
by Darrell Marks, Pumpkin Creek Clothing Co.

In addition to our two web-sites, where all of the clothing featured is made in our own factory, we sell directly to the public from our 10,000 square foot outlet store. We are visited by hundreds of shoppers each week who come not only for the things which we make, but those selections Susan has gathered from the markets she attends. Although the customers may be too many to count, the number who are concerned about the country of origin of their purchases is not. It is very small, almost non-existent. The majority look at the styling first, the price second, and to their companions for their approval third. Where something is made is no longer a concern to almost anyone.

Is this a good or bad thing?

For someone like myself, who has been in garment maunfacturing since 1969, it is a bad thing. I have seen the once great American manufacturing system succumb to the demand of the Giant Walk-Marts, to whom price is everything. Thousands of good manufacturing plants, and all of their workers, have fallen prey to cheap foreign imports. Those that could not compete have gone the way of the horse drawn carraige, the telegraph, and free TV.

Being a ”the glass is half full” kind of guy though, I see the other side. Garment prices to the public are cheaper now than they were 10 years ago. Sure, people have been forced into jobs which they may have not preferred, but others have been able to afford a better life style because they are spending less on clothing and other commodities.

And we have survived, in an industry that is dying. How have we done it? By working long and hard, by being innovative and creative, and by refocusing our market. We quit making clothing for others to mark up and profit from, choosing to sell directly to the public at factory prices. The price I now receive is the same stores paid me years ago, but the customer pays no mark-up, thus my prices compete quite well with ”cheaper” imports. We both win. And for those of you who still feel ”Made In The USA” is important, the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

News from the Afghani Front

This is an excerpt from a letter written by my friend's son, who is stationed in Afghanistan...

October 25, 2005

So now that the deployment is almost over, I can look back with pride and say we accomplished . . . Um . . . Uh-oh.

This is a strange war we’re fighting here. The stuffed-shirts at the Pentagon go on and on about how the Taliban are on the run and we’re winning the war on terror and bringing democracy to the Afghan people, and then the media jumps in and says no, the Taliban are gaining strength and importing Jihadist techniques and soon they’ll be unstoppable, and for the average soldier on the ground the only possible response to all of it is, “Huh?” Where is all this happening? Probably the only similarity between the typical GI and the typical Afghani is that neither of them knows what the f**k their leaders are talking about.
. . .
This is what most missions are like: a bunch of American soldiers come thundering into a stone-age village dressed like warrior mercenaries from outer space looking for a guy whose name they can’t pronounce because someone’s brother-in-law’s uncle’s cousin fingered him as a Taliban; The soldiers don’t find the guy because he’s moved to Pakistan, but they do find his brother. So they detain him and start asking questions. None of the answers they get make any sense because their interpreter speaks bad Dari and worse English, but it doesn’t really make any difference because the guy’s lying his head off anyway. Taliban? Who? Never heard of them. He’s just looking for the right words that will make the Americans go away. But you know what? When Taliban fighters pass through his village (and they do pass through his village) he tells them exactly what they want to hear, too. Because all the guy wants is to be left alone.

But in the end the soldiers decide to take him in for further questioning. So they load him up in a Humvee and start heading back to base. Maybe as they leave they chuck some soccer balls out the windows for the kids. Everyone in the village gets a big kick out of that, except for the two kids standing in a doorway crying because their dad is being taken away by foreign soldiers. But, oh well. And that’s it. No shots fired and the whole thing takes about three hours.

. . .
All my griping aside, I am actually hopeful for Afghanistan’s future as we prepare to head home. The elections went off without violence, the government seems committed to democracy, the Afghan Army is slowly improving, and most importantly, the people themselves seem sick to death of fighting. I think things will turn out all right here. If I ever run into the mother of one of the soldiers who died on this deployment, that’s probably what I would tell her – things will turn out all right, and somehow, in some way, your son helped to make that happen.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Week’s End

It’s Friday, so I’ll keep my sentences short. American manufacturing is on its own today, cuz what I’m thinking about is:

  1. WHAT THE HECK IS APPLE DOING getting rid of the iPod Mini??!! The new iPod Nano is cute and all, but it only comes in black or white. That’s SO yesterday. Bring back the colors! Good thing I got my pink iPod Mini this summer. Here’s a great little video about iPod, made by video artist George Masters, catchy tune by a Welsh band: check it out at
  2. More music: I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to the Fall Out Boy song, “I’ve Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea that Says You Should Shut Your Mouth.” In addition to a great title, the song sounds a lot like early Elvis Costello. What a treat. If iTunes is too establishment for you, check out new music at
  3. GO SOX!!!! My interest in baseball comes and goes. Sort of an “Easter Catholic” when it comes to sports. But, you bet I’ll be watching Saturday night.
  4. Saving Energy: The weather is turning cooler and I am tempted to turn on the heat. But, thanks to some of the email from readers this week (“just a bored housewife” indeed!!), I am feeling pretty warm!
Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


[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, 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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Cyber Communities

Lots of sociologists are already studying the formation of “virtual communities” on the world wide web, so I don’t wish to tread on anyone more qualified than I. However, as a novice webmaster I was surprised and tickled to discover that there was a “Brotherhood of Webmasters”—a sort of loose-knit and totally informal, but supportive, online community of webmasters.

When I first launched in July 2004, other webmasters wrote out of the blue to offer congratulations, suggestions, and practical advice. One webmaster downsized my graphics and posted them on his site for me to get! Another told me how to use affiliate programs to earn some revenue from visits, another suggested ways to use Google, another offered advice on keywords, another pointed out technical problems with my site.

Understand that these comments were unsolicited and offered out of a sense of comradeship—either because they liked the mission of the site, or because of some sense of brotherhood among webmasters. Now that I have learned a thing or two about running websites, I often return the favor by making suggestions to other webmasters.

In addition to this community of webmasters, there are ringmasters! These are individuals who voluntarily maintain webrings, linked rings of sites that share some common theme. My ringmaster is James Huggins, and he has a great site that explains webrings. There are also folks that maintain sites with free tutorials (I learned how to write my site from Dave Kristula), libraries of JavaScript code, website design tips, and open-source software. There is a lot of give and take, sharing of information and ideas, all of which makes the Internet a fun place to hang out!

I am not a fan of “chat rooms” and I don’t IM, although I see the attraction of the real-time talk. However, there are also online communities like and, where people post information about themselves and link up with friends, and friends of friends. Maybe this reflects my age, but this category of communities doesn’t appeal to me as much. They seem to be vastly popular with the 20-somethings, though. However you cut it, there is a lot of communicating going on!

Here’s a fun trick that a webmaster shared with me: You can talk to your favorite webmaster by typing messages into a Google search box. Allow me to demonstrate: say you wanted to tell Dave Kristula how much you appreciate his free HTML tutorial.

In the Google search box, type “ Dave you’re the best” then hit enter. Google will pull up the listing for, and when you click on it, your search terms (a.k.a. your message to Dave) will show up in his web statistics log. (So let’s all Google a message to Stephanie, webgoddess of!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Financial Check-Up

I recently had a “financial physical” with my financial advisor, Bob Tresley, who is very strict with me regarding my wasteful expenditures. He is relieved to hear that I no longer buy Gevalia coffee, and that I have finally quit my book clubs. He notes that my loyal Ford Taurus (1991 model year) is greatly over-insured, that I need to emphasize retirement savings over college savings, and that I need to stop using “buy American” shopping as therapy!

Natural gas and electricity prices are predicted to skyrocket this winter. Bob suggested a series of energy-saving measures (e.g., water heater blanket, compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout the house, automatic thermostat, and weather stripping for doors and windows). He also hammered home the following commandment of energy savings:

“Apply thee NOT the weather stripping to thy windows WHILST some of them remain stuck open a full inch at the top from the time last summer when the trim on the outside of the house was painted …”

You may not all have access to Bob Tresley, but it’s still a good idea to take stock once in awhile. Are you saving a little (or a lot) each month? Are you paying off your credit cards each month? Are you buying things you don’t really need? Ordering too many pizzas for delivery?

There are lots of free resources on the web that can help you get started; e.g., try for household budget forms, checklists, and money-saving tips. In addition to taking a close look at spending and saving habits, Bob recommends ordering that free credit report we’re all entitled to (go to

I also want to pass along a great website tutorial on Ten Financial Questions and Answers for Women, courtesy of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. The web seminar runs just over 11 minutes, but I encourage you to listen through to the end even if some of the initial questions don’t seem to apply to you. Issues covered include estate planning, life insurance needs, supporting aging parents and children, and saving and credit strategies.

Here’s wishing you financial AND physical health!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

“Buy American” should not be code for Xenophobia

I was taken aback by an email I received recently, in which the writer assumed that I hated foreigners, so let me clarify. Being a supporter of American manufacturing and American workers does NOT equate to disliking people from other countries and cultures!

I love meeting people from other places, on their turf or mine. I speak several languages, have many international friends, and love to travel. My great-grandfather came to this country from Italy, and my grandmother spoke Italian and English. When I interact with people from other countries, I am always very conscious that I am an ambassador for America and I try to leave a good impression.

My concern for the welfare of workers doesn’t stop at the U.S. border. And, I know that wages and working conditions are MUCH worse in many places around the globe. I also know that Americans over-consume. We use up much more of the world’s resources per capita than most other countries.

Still, I think our economy will be stronger if we retain a diversified set of manufacturing and information technology skills and offer a variety of employment paths for our people. I also think we need to recognize the choices we make when we decide what to buy. That includes rewarding companies that have fair employment practices, environmentally responsible processes and products, and positive roles in their communities.

Companies that continue to employ our fellow citizens, offer decent wages and benefits, and pay their fair share of taxes, deserve our support as consumers. Nothing xenophobic in that.