I think I've mentioned before that my dad spent most of his working life employed by various cotton mills that provided the backbone for the economy in upstate South Carolina throughout most of the 20th century.
For most of my growing-up years, dad's employment was steady, with only occasional lay-offs as demand for textile products waxed and waned. The work was hot, dirty and demanding in pre-OSHA days. But the textile industry paid most of the bills for most of the families living in what was then known as “the Textile Center of the World.”
When I got old enough to earn money and could buy my dad gifts for Fathers Day, birthdays and Christmas, I often looked for shirts and sweaters, made of cotton, of course, and made in the USA.
He often complained about the cheap clothing products that flooded the markets, mostly in the discount stores at the time, that displaced American-made goods. He could point out the flaws in the weaves of various items and show where hems would likely come loose or where the fiber was not spun or woven up to U.S. standards.
He also pointed out that the floods of cheap goods from China and other foreign countries often resulted in the slow-downs and lay-offs that put folks out of work, sometimes for weeks at a time.
I'd have willingly swallowed a bit of castor oil before I'd have bought him a shirt that was made anywhere other than the United States. It would have seemed disloyal to do otherwise. And finding Made in the USA label proved fairly easy — for a while. But by the early 80s, finding American made cotton clothing became problematic. Mills began to close. Employment became less certain.
Still, I wouldn't willingly buy my dad a cotton shirt made in Taiwan. I'd look in some of the best department stores available in the area and about seven times out of ten struck out. Often, I ended up buying dad a Case pocketknife, something he liked almost as much as I do.
If I had had access then to a website link recently made available by Beltwide Cotton Genetics, I could have found all manner of cotton clothing “Made in the USA.”
Rick Rice, director of sales and marketing for BCG, told me about the site at this year's Beltwide Cotton Conferences. On their official website, www.Beltwidecottongenetics.com, you can find a heading “Grown and Sewn,” and from there to companies that specialize in cotton products made in America.
It's not a profit center for Beltwide Cotton Genetics, “just a service to the cotton industry,” says Rice.
The BCG Grown and Sewn site explains the dilemma: “In the past 10 years USA textile mill use has declined from around 66 percent of USA cotton production to … less than 40 percent in 2003. When we buy cotton goods from China, India, Pakistan or other far or middle-eastern countries, we're providing an outlet for foreign cotton at the expense of our own.
“The trouble is that…buying US Grown and Sewn is not always easy to do.” In fact, it's even harder now than it was when I was ransacking the racks looking for a 100 percent, Made in USA cotton shirt for my dad back in the late 1980s. We've lost a bunch more mills since then and foreign textiles have taken over a significant chunk of the U.S. cotton market.
The Grown and Sewn site features companies such as Grey Bear Union Line, Fresh Produce, Coosa County Clothing and Jo Ann Jo Ann, Inc., that specialize in cotton products made in the United States. A quick look shows that prices on some items might be a bit higher than comparable items from foreign manufacturers, but not all that much and the extra cost at least goes to keep the U.S. cotton industry going.
No one should be naive enough to believe that one website link will restore the U.S. cotton industry to its heyday. It's a lot easier to close a plant down than to open a new one. But for those of us who would pay a few dollars more to support the U.S. cotton industry, it's good to know that there's a place we can check to make the search a lot easier than pulling hundreds of hangars off hundreds of racks looking for that good old “100 percent cotton, Made in the USA” label.
Beltwide Cotton Genetics deserves a hearty pat on the back of their 100 percent American Made cotton shirts for making this service available.