Monday, January 30, 2006

American-Made Blue Jeans

It’s hard to imagine a wardrobe without denim jeans. What started out as hard-working wear for men has evolved into a fashion basic for men, women, and children. The old-style dungaree (from the Hindi “dungri” meaning a coarse cloth) is still around, but increasingly the jeans market is dominated by stretch denim that dresses up or down.

Denim trivia: if you look closely at your jeans, you will see that the denim has a diagonal pattern in the weave. As every school kid knows, weaving takes a filling yarn over-under-over-under the warp yarns (the same technique applies to lattice pie crust!). For denim and other twill fabrics, however, the filling yarns go under and over two or more warp yarns. This creates an offset pattern from one row to the next. The addition of spandex fibers allows the denim to "give."

American jeans used to mean Levi, Wrangler, and Lee, to name a few. Today, Levi jeans are made overseas. Wrangler and Lee brands are owned by VF Corporation, which also owns Chic Jeans, Riders, and Rustler brands. VF Corp. has manufacturing plants located in the United States, as well as other parts of the world. So, while MAY be possible to find a pair of Wrangler or Lee jeans made in USA, it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. Likewise, jeans made for LLBean, Landsend, and the GAP are imported.

Luckily, there are a surprising number of American-made jean options available. For a definitive (almost) listing of jeans still made in USA, see Stephanie's Guide to American-Made Jeans. (I tried to include the tables here, but blogger doesn't seem to like them!) I have divided the brands into two categories: traditional “serious” jeans and up-scale luxury jeans. Admittedly, my groupings are somewhat arbitrary, but jeans that cost over $100 a pair (and some up to $200 a pair) cry out for special treatment!

There is a confusing array of these luxury jeans, featuring hand sanding, grinding, and “destroyed effects” (i.e., the price includes having someone wear them out for you!). I did not find much to distinguish among the high-end, couture jeans; all the brands I list appear to be made in USA from imported (primarily stretch) denim. One stand-out is Truck Jeans, a brand of fashion jeans made in USA from imported denim, offering blasted and “destroyed” effects for under $50. The label in my Truck Jeans says “Made with American hands in the USA.” How cool is that?!

Here's an interesting article on the booming luxury jeans market: Explosion of pricey premium-jeans market has created intense competition and, some say, a bloated inventory for retailers. By Jennifer Davies (San Diego Union Tribune, October 5, 2005)

One final note. I did not include USA Works jeans in the table because they are presently being imported. However, Sapko International, which makes USA WORKS, says they are on track to restart USA production (in Wisconsin) and hope to begin shipping domestic USA WORKS by late third or early fourth quarter 2006. I’ll update the table as soon as I get confirmation that American-made USA WORKS jeans are once again available. (I took down the Blog Poll on whether or not we should buy imported USA WORKS to show support for the company. The results were 50% in favor, 42% opposed, and 8% undecided. Since that time, the company has posted a note on their website with their commitment to restart US production as soon as possible--yeah!!)

As always, I welcome comments, additions, and corrections. Let me know what you think of Stephanie's Guide to American-Made Jeans.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Village Traditions: Celebrating Craftsmanship and Natural Materials

Visiting is like taking a leisurely trip through the unspoiled countryside of northern Vermont. The site offers simple, beautiful products made from clay, wood, and leather. Creamy pottery and hand blown glass by Simon Pearce, bowls of cherry and walnut, pieces of Vermont slate, and handspun pewter bowls and vases. The pieces seem carefully selected to please the eye and sooth the spirit, and many are made in Northern New England.

For the Italiano-files among us (just call me la Bella Stephania!), VillageTraditions also offers a sublime selection of handmade Italian pewter cutlery and soft Italian leather goods. The shopping experience is made perfect by the many beautiful photographs of the Shelburne area. Take a trip with your mouse, feel the tranquility, and reconnect with the timeless beauty of goods made by hand from natural materials.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Organize This!

Today I received an email that shouted: “Make Your Home Clutter-Free!” “Tackle Your Toughest Storage Tasks!” “Shop Our Problem Solvers Collection Today!” Now how in the heck did they know? Have they been peeking??

Okay, I admit to having an “organization problem.” Not for lack of purchasing various organizers, however. Just last week (and, no, this was NOT a New Year’s Resolution!) I went off to Staples and bought a lovely storage/filing container (HOMZ, made in USA) and some pocket folders (made in Mexico). The idea was that I would file newspaper clippings, story ideas, USA-made product information, and correspondence and reintroduce myself to my desktop. As evidence that buying organizers can motivate, energize, and organize me, I attach the following Before and After photos. Can you tell the difference?!

[January 21, 2006: UPDATE! I received an email today about an organizational "life-in-a-binder" system called JOYS: Just Organize Your Stuff. The website says "JOYS is committed to providing high quality, fairly priced, made in the USA products." It looks like a very well thought out set of checklists and reminders, packaged in a beautiful binder. Check it out! Maybe there's hope yet . . .]

Music to get you going on Friday after a tough week—and it WAS a tough one. (Though I am thankful not to live in Russia, where temperatures are 20 below, and not to be a coal miner.)
"Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything will be alright"
--from The Middle, by Jimmy Eat World, the “Bleed American” album released July 2001.

New additions to this week:

Stephanie's Valentine Gift Picks!

Auburn Leathercrafters (Auburn, NY)

Drew’s Boots (Klamath Falls, OR)

Eldreth Pottery (Lancaster Co., PA)

Hartstone Pottery (Zanesville, OH)

Louisville Stoneware (Louisville, KY)

Our American Heritage (Paoli, PA)

Soft Star Shoes (Corvallis, OR)

Keep those emails coming—it’s great to hear about companies that I can list! Next week: Product Reports and a summary of American-Made Blue Jeans. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hartstone Pottery is Back!

My first virtual catalog, posted for Fall 2004, featured hand-painted pottery by Hartstone Pottery of Zanesville, Ohio. I loved their Pumpkin Patch pottery design for autumn celebrations. I also included their Funny Farm pattern in the 2004 Holiday catalog.

Hartstone Pumpkin Patch

Hartstone Funny Farm

Then, in 2005 I was distraught to hear that the pottery was being closed by its parent company, Carlisle Home Products. In past years, Hartstone Pottery had made blueberry pottery for LLBean and hand-painted soup tureens and other pieces for Crate and Barrel. As these larger accounts were lost to cheaper imported pottery, the Pottery struggled to remain profitable. Finally, Carlisle Home Products decided to pull the plug.

The closure of Hartstone Pottery not only meant the loss of jobs in Zanesville, but the potential loss of an artistic heritage in an area with a long history of handmade, hand-painted pottery. I also learned that the closure was impacting local potters who had relied on the Hartstone kilns to have their own pottery fired. I resorted to EBay to buy up a few pieces of Hartstone Funny Farm, while sending offers of free web advertising to Carlisle and Hartstone, and urging support for the company on local web boards. I didn’t have much hope that the company could be saved.

But, finally some good news. An article in the local Zanesville paper reported that a group of investors was working to save the pottery. Today I checked back, and was delighted to see that the Hartstone website is back on line! The Original Hartstone Pottery has reopened and is producing a limited number of their pottery patterns. I am hoping that more will come on-line as they grow the business. If you love hand-painted pottery, here’s your chance to support a wonderful enterprise. Welcome back, Hartstone Pottery!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why I'm Drinking More Coffee in 2006

For those who felt that I set my sights too low for 2006, here is an important "news story" (Disclaimer: not a true story) by David Deckert. Enjoy!

SEATTLE (PA) -- SEATTLE MAN ARRESTED FOR INDECENT EXPOSURE -- Police in downtown Seattle arrested a man for indecent exposure today. Mr. Michael Feldman of 714 SE James St., was arrested after police determined that he was carrying neither a cellphone nor a latte. He was taken into custody and cited with criminal non-possesion of caffeine and failure to provide an annoying ring melody in a public place. He was later fined and released under his own recognizance.

Police first became suspicious of Mr. Feldman after they observed him briskly crossing a busy street at a crosswalk while failing to stop and hold up traffic. The officers reported that since Mr. Feldman did not seem to be carrying any sort of coffee they stopped him for questioning. A brief search determined that neither was he carrying any sort of communication device.

"He didn't even have a pager," said Officer "Buck" Simmons of the Seattle Police Department. "We figured he must be one of them anarchists, so we gassed him just to be on the safe side."

Mr. Feldman apologized for his actions and said that he hoped that no innocent bystanders had been affected. He explained that the unexpected sunny weather had "put him out of sorts" and that he had neglected to don his cellphone before leaving the house. Mr. Feldman later told reporters, "I guess I was too busy looking at that blue sky." Said Officer "Buck" Simmons, "He just kept looking up. Like at the sky or something. We thought he was a psycho."

A similar incident happened last month when a Mr. Jeffrey DuChamp was arrested and faced the same charges. Those charges were later dropped when it was discovered that Mr. DuChamp was Canadian, and he was summarily deported.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mapping Visitors to

Yesterday I discovered a really COOL little web techy tool that produces a map of the most recent 100 visitors to my website, The service locates IP addresses on top of Google maps to provide a geographic view of the location of visitors to my site. There is no end to the wonderful bits of code that are available for free!

Check it out by clicking on my visitor log. If you’re looking for yourself, be aware that the data only updates every few hours. Isn’t this fun??!!

While on the topic of websites and techy developments, I pass along this prognostication from Scott Adams (quoted from his 1997 book, The Dilbert Future)

“In the not-too-distant future, anybody who doesn’t have their own home page on the World Wide Web will probably qualify for a government subsidy for the home-pageless.”

So, if you are webpage-deprived, make 2006 the year that you get a homepage, get a blog, or at least get a mapped visitor log! Happy New Year (again, still)!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year, 2006!

That popping sound was the housing bubble bursting, but I’m not worried because I’m diversified (I own GM stock). All the columnists (the paid variety, that is) are reminding us of Tsunami and hurricane aftermaths, union-busting, outsourcing, wars and death. I choose to leave 2005 summarizing and hand-wringing to them, and focus on 2006.

Back when I worked in cubicle land, I used to post my New Year’s Resolutions outside my work station to forewarn my co-workers. Heading the list every year was “Be nicer.” Number 2 was usually “Keep my workspace clean,” followed by “Exercise more.” My friends know that I never kept any of these resolutions. Now that I am older and wiser, my resolutions are much more practical. So here goes:

2006 Resolutions

  • Drink more coffee, and make sure it’s not tested on animals.
  • Stop donating money to every cause that knocks on my door. (This per my financial advisor, Bob Tresley.)
  • Start as many projects as I want without feeling guilty if I don’t finish all of them.
  • Apply my Type-A, detail-oriented, dictatorial skills to helping people who don’t even know they want help.
  • Write to politicians.

I have an unshakeable conviction that 2006 will be a great year. People (and I include Republicans here) are basically good, talented, and hard-working. We have a lot of things to work on (raising living and working conditions, educating our kids, decreasing our effects on the environment), but we’re going to get there. I’m confident that I can make a difference, and have fun doing it. So I raise my glass of Sparkling Cider and wish all of you a Happy New Year!