By CRISTINA ROUVALIS
November 14, 2007
No problem, I figure. How rough could it be?
My answer comes even before I am fully awake. For starters, I yank my head off my made-in-China pillowcase, dump coffee out of my made-in-China mug, and eat bread without browning it in my made-in-China toaster.
The first two jackets I grab out of my closet are made in China, too, so I reach for a vintage one, made in the 1940s before America outsourced much of its manufacturing.
My social experiment is even more disorienting when it comes time to dress my 6-year-old daughter for school. She wails in protest as I veto her favorite three skirts, all-made-in-China bargains. Her Disney princess backpack and lunch box also are from China, but I look the other way to avoid a made-in-America meltdown.
What has me rooting out made-in-China labels -- as opposed to common household products made in sweatshops in Sri Lanka or Vietnam or Indonesia -- are a rash of problems associated with Chinese imports. Some 21 million Chinese toys have been recalled because of lead contamination and other safety hazards, while tainted pet food caused widespread illness among cats and dogs earlier this year, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to restrict some pet-food ingredients from China.
So what would happen if we banned all products imported from China, estimated at $20 billion a month?
My one-day experiment suggests that our materialistic lives as we know them would change rather drastically.
I am no techie, but I do need a phone and computer as a reporter. I can't use my home phone because the battery is made in China. My home computer and work computer are unusable because of the made-in-China mouse. And my newspaper's laptops, IBM Think Pad T61, are made in China. So my only option is to scribble out my story by hand on a made-in-the-USA legal pad.
Nah. So I decided to shop -- err, I mean, do research -- for my story.
I head to Target, my favorite place for cheap chic.
My mission is to find tights for my daughter. Amid a sea of Chinese-made Circo brand tights, I track down a pair of black Xhiliration tights made in the USA for only $4.99.
A trip to the toy department for some early Christmas shopping is even more maddening. All my daughter's favorites -- My Little Pony, Little Pet Shop, many crafts -- are made in China. I find a fairy jigsaw puzzle for about $5 that was made in the USA. An identical puzzle in a sturdier metal container is even better, but alas, it is the same price and made in China. Go figure. The puzzle with the chintzier box goes into my cart.
But of course, a discount store is brimming with overseas labels. What do I expect? Cheap chic without cheap labor?
"I do think American people are culpable for always seeking the cheapest products without stopping to think about it and imagining the conditions" in overseas sweatshops, says Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, a New-York based human rights advocacy group.
But he doesn't come down that hard on me. He slams companies such as Mattel for what he calls protecting the Barbie doll from trademark infringement, but not the worker making the doll. He also criticizes political leaders for the lack of regulations and religious leaders for the lack of outrage.
Plus, Kernaghan sympathizes with people looking high and low for made-in-USA labels. He wears old Hathaway shirts because the new ones are made overseas, and recently bought a pair of made-in-USA pants for $150.
It's not just clearance-bin bottom feeders such as me who are snatching up overseas products.
A side trip to Saks Fifth Avenue shows that shoppers can pay dearly for a made-in-China label. A hip, patterned dress by Diane von Furstenberg costs $345, even though it is made in China. As is an elegant gray Robert Rodriguez coat for $649, which was just reduced, but still too rich for me. (But the store also stocks many chic made-in-the-USA clothes including an adorable Nanette Lepore jacket.)
So I go home to do something totally unmaterialistic -- exercise. It sounds simple enough, except I cannot use my new Nike running shoes, which are made in China. Even my flat, very comfy Aerosoles come from China. In fact, the only shoes I can put on my feet are an old pair of Arche shoes made in France, which are very comfortable, but have two-inch heels. Great for the office, but I can't run in these babies.
Everywhere I look is another label, taunting me. I become so label-crazed that I grab my husband's fleece jacket by the back collar. He gets a pass because it says made-in-Indonesia, not China.
"You are losing your mind," he says, waving me away.
He's right. So I have a glass of made-in-America merlot and pet my born-in-Pittsburgh cat before putting my head on an uncovered pillow, calling it a very strange day.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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