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 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.


Anonymous said...

Geeez! Stephanie...You are a wordy lady. How do find time to write all
this stuff? Good grief!

Anonymous said...

I am an inveterate Buy American nut. I drive salesmen crazy asking them to verify items are American made before I'll buy them. If I can't find something American made, I just don't buy it at all, with rare exceptions.

Even so, I'd have a hard time faulting USA Works for their decision. I don't expect a company to just up and die under those circumstances, and their commitment to US manufacturing is evident.

It's a dilemma, but I'd have to come down on the side of not penalizing a staunch American employer for doing what they have to do to stay alive long enough to reopen their factory.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Anonymous! I'd like to keep buying USA Works jeans to make sure there's a company to reopen. BUT, I'd sure feel better about it if they would make the public commitment about rebuilding the factory. On their website would be best. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

A public statement on their site would be a great idea. I mean, anything I heard directly from them is better than hearing it through the grapevine. There are people like me that would appreciate that.

Anonymous said...

I have been wearing USA Works Gusset Jeans for a number of years in Kansas, love em. Now I live in Minnesota and can not find them nor can I get a response from Sapco.


Anonymous said...

I WILL NOT purchase anything from Sapko Company because if they really wanted to make their jeans in the US, all they have to do is call one of the many contractors in THIS COUNTRY that needs production... I think it's all a greedy smokescreen!


Anonymous said...

not addressing the issue on the usa works website, accounts dropping them, and the runaround they gave me when i phoned has led me to believe they are finished manufacturing in the USA. If they were going to re-open dont you think we would all know it by now.
Suggestion: I have found a really great USA made jean at gusset.com. Diamond gusset has been making jeans here for 20 years.

Stephanie said...

Agree there are other American-made jeans, including Diamond Gusset. The full list of American-made Jeans that I found is posted at Stephanie's Guide to American-Made Jeans

Anonymous said...

When they start building in USA, I'll start buying them again. Great product but not if imported.

Anonymous said...

Don't buy the "will rebuild" bit.

There are tons of empty factory buildings all over the country and litterally 10's of thousands of sewing machines sitting idle. The clothing business is used to moving to get the best labor rates. They could be up and running in 6 mos. tops if that is their intention.

I don't buy til they restart in USA.

Anonymous said...

Thursday, April 12, 2007 Front Page article in Racine, Wi newspaper "The Journal Times" titled "CUSTOMS INVESTIGATING ALLEGATIONS THAT SAPKO INTERNATIONAL SWITCHED LABELS ON FOREIGN JEANS" By Michael Burke. link JournalTimes.com

Anonymous said...

Article plus comments "Insurer sues Sapko, alleges it padded claims after fire"

Anonymous said...

Sapko has ended USA Works as of June 2007. Allegedly because they weren't Made in USA and Sapko got caught using prisoners to switch the labels:

"U.S. Customs investigates alleged "Made in U.S.A." label switching at local company" April 12, 2007 front page article Racine Journal Times http://www.journaltimes.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid=12148

"Insurer sues Sapko, alleges it padded claim after fire" April 25, 2007 Racine Journal Times http://www.journaltimes.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid=12495

Don't believe anything Sapko tells you. Do your own research.

Anonymous said...

U.S. Customs investigates alleged "Made in U.S.A." label switching at local company

MOUNT PLEASANT — Sapko International is being investigated by the U.S. Customs agency for allegedly removing foreign labels from denim jeans and replacing them with “Made in U.S.A.” labels.

The label-switching investigation involved a recent visit by Customs which included seizure of some of the clothing and labels allegedly involved.

“They’re questioning some of our labeling practices,” Sapko President and owner Al Sapko said Wednesday.
Sapko International, based at 3535 Oakes Road, sells under various labels; this allegation pertains to the USA Works line of jeans.

Sapko said that he did not personally know of any label switching. If true, it would be a criminal violation of the federal Marking of Imported Articles and Containers law.

“Customs came in to investigate the practices that we are conducting,” Sapko said, adding that some clothing is “on hold” by Customs.

According to some accounts, Customs officials “raided” Sapko recently and then came back the next day, confiscating discarded labels that had been snipped out of foreign-made clothing.

Sapko said the label switching, if it occurred, took place at a “remote” facility from the headquarters building.

“We haven’t come to a conclusion yet,” he said.

But Kevin Wilke, a prisoner at Kenosha Correctional Center, said there is no doubt the label removal was going on for an extended time at Sapko — and that Alan Sapko knew about it. Sapko International used many prisoners, both from KCC and women prisoners from Ellsworth Correctional Center in the Town of Dover.

“That’s all (the women prisoners) did,” Wilke said. “He had about five of them doing it.”

The “Made in Bangladesh” tags would be removed from the jeans here and sent to another Sapko facility to have the “Made in USA” tags sewn in, he said.

Wilke continued, “(Sapko) would actually come and inspect it and tell everyone how good a job they were doing.” Sapko’s office was nearby and, “He was always walking through.”

“He had a special Dumpster just for tags,” Wilke added.

He said at Sapko, the clothing was also removed from boxes identifying the source as Bangladesh. The boxes would be discarded, and the jeans would be put into new boxes that had no country of origin markings.

“It was going smooth for him,” said Wilke, who said he is originally from Milwaukee and serving time for armed robbery.

Calling Customs

Wilke, who began working at Sapko Nov. 29, said he is the one who blew the whistle about the alleged scam. “I just called Customs,” he said. “I knew it was a Customs violation.”

He said Sapko got wind of that and laid off everyone involved including Wilke — after telling Wilke he would match what the Customs department will pay him for testifying. Wilke spurned the offer, largely because he said the workers were poorly treated.

As for why Sapko used so much prison labor, Wilke said, “He knew he could control them, and he had an unlimited supply of them.”

John Christman of Union Grove, who was Sapko’s tire division manager until Alan Sapko fired him in November, confirmed the accounts about prison labor. “They were delivered every morning and picked up every night,” he said. “They were never late.”

Christman, who worked for the company for 2 [1/2] years, said Sapko took advantage of new hires in his tire-mounting department by hiring them at $7 per hour with a promise of a raise in 30 or 60 days. But the raises never came. “I’d say 90 to 95 percent of them never got that,” he said.

“In two years, I quit counting at 60 employees” who had been dismissed or quit over that issue.

Christman said he often tried to get Sapko to follow through with raises, to stabilize the work force. He believes that is why Sapko one day fired him, without explanation. Christman is still on unemployment compensation.

Besides selling clothing, the privately owned company does freight and cargo trucking.

In another matter involving Alan Sapko, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue on Tuesday filed a warrant against him for delinquent taxes of $162,707.88.

According to electronic court records, the warrant is based on initial unpaid taxes by Sapko, 52, of $67,107. A $26,339.28 penalty and $69,261.50 in interest raised that total to the warrant amount.

In 1999 the state filed a similar warrant for delinquent taxes against Sapko for $4,246.62, according to electronic court records. That warrant has since been paid.

If you've got more information regarding Sapko, please contact reporter Mick Burke at 262-631-1716 or mburke@journaltimes.com.

Anonymous said...

hellllllllooooo people i am as american as any of you Sapko int'l has done much more good than harm, and his taxes finances etc are not the issue, nor the jealous, lazy, employees, trying to stab him in the back, come on I am a manager of a company, he is just a work a holic, very precise, possibly demanding, I can't believe with all the horrible things in the world going on any of you quote unquote Americans have time to bother with bad mouthing anyone. Ha, jump on the band wagon oh no wait or would it be the chain gang of which without Sapko they'd be in jail sucking up more of the tax payers money from a president Bush side I almost have to say the state and Sapko are even, Thanks Alan for keeping the birds caged, hahahaha, Good Luck to Sapko Int'l,and its employees. God Speed, and don't lose faith in your fellow Americans!!!!! The American in Provence Naples