Posted by: yannaungoak | August 13, 2009

Made in the USA

I was talking with my cousin who lives in Singapore this morning, asking her if she wanted me to buy anything from the US. Apparently her husband wanted a pair of Levi’s Jeans that were made in the USA. I was like, “Heh!?! Who makes anything in the US anymore?”, and perhaps more importantly, who cares where they’re made!

In Myanmar, there’s an old tradition of making sure that the consumer items you bought are made in specific places. The hierarchy goes something like this (from most to least preferable):

  • USA
  • Europe
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • Rest of the World
  • China

I’m inclined to say its a cultural relic from back in the days when the country of manufacture actually said something about the quality of the goods, before the advent of global branding and subcontracting. These days, the only real thing major brands sell is the brand itself, or more specifically the intellectual property associated with putting whatever logo on the pair of jeans or shoes or whatever. The quality of the actual products themselves has little to do with the country they are manufactured in, because the only input from the country of manufacture is the labor, and the manufacturing process is so standardized that it’s really hard for the actual nationality of the workers to make a difference in the quality of the product. Usually, the big brands ship the raw material to wherever the factory is located, have the jeans sewn up, and ship it to their global wholesale distributors.

However, I believe this really only applies to major label brands: your Levi’s, Nike, Dell, Sony and whatnot. I think there’s still a shred of truth to the old consumer’s wisdom of checking the country of manufacture if you’re buying stuff that isn’t part of the supply chain of big global brands. Especially in a country like Myanmar, where shoddy products and cheap knockoffs are plentiful.

For example, my dad owns a Radioshack-like electrical hardware store in Yangon and when customers come in to buy light bulbs or power chords or whatnot, the first question he asks is “Do you want the Japanese ones, the Thai ones, or the Chinese ones”, with the disclaimer that, “the Chinese ones are the cheapest, but will break in a few weeks”. For this kind of thing, country of manufacture really does matter, because it seems that big manufacturing countries like China do make good quality products, but those are specifically for exporting to the West. For countries like Myanmar, the Chinese products you get are just cheap knockoffs with crap quality, and everybody knows it.

I also remember about ten years ago, when I was buying a pair of Nike sneakers in Yangon at this place in Bokyoke market. The shop went to great lengths to trick people into believing that the sneakers were actually made in Korea. You know how the little info label on the shoes usually has the “Made in blah blah blah” information in both French and English? What they did was to erase the English version of the label and write a new label on it that said, “Made in Korea”. However, they apparently weren’t smart enough to change the French label that still said “Fabriqué en Chine”. Sad. I know. And they were all like, “look man, these ones are more expensive because they’re made in Korea”. And I was like, “yeah… sure…”

I know that in the US, there are also people who care deeply that their products are made in the USA. It usually has to with either patriotism or social awareness. Of course, like all issues in the United States, this one also has a bipartisan divide. The argument for “Buy American” from the conservative side of the political spectrum is just plain old patriotism, “Protect American jobs!”. The argument from the liberal side of the fence has to do with labor standards overseas. The overwhelming fear that their impeccable “morality” might be compromised by buying something that was made in a sweat shop. I don’t think any of the two arguments hold any water, but anyways… before I stumble into the abyss that is American politics, let’s get back to my original topic…

So, heeding my cousin’s request for American made Levi’s, I went on the internet to see what I could find, because surely I would have no luck finding any at the mall. I did find some on eBay, some used ones for about $20 and brand new ones for $100. The “new” ones are probably stuff that were actually made years ago, because I don’t think Levi’s actually has a US factory anymore.

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Responses

  1. […] of high end luxury products, its kind of like a free for all. This ties in to what I said in my previous post too. It’s funny that even the world’s best economists haven’t figured out why so […]


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