Made Over There

Behind Wal-Mart's bogus BUY AMERICAN image hides the truth: The vast majority of its garments are foreign-made

| Tue Sep. 15, 1998 3:00 AM EDT

A surprising number of native Arkansans have made the transition from hillbilly to national icon by virtue of their patriotism. No, we're not referring to the McDougals, Paula Jones, or even Bill Clinton. We're talking about the late billionaire Sam Walton and his scions who -- with a line of discount products, a pinch of aggressive expansionism, and a dash of old-fashioned nationalism -- have managed to drive nearly every mom and pop who owned a store from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine out of business and into poorly made blue vests -- shilling for the very company that shut them down.

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"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." -- Samuel Johnson

Wal-Mart, perhaps sensing the resentment of small-town communities forever altered by the retail colossus, has attempted to maintain an aw-shucks hometown image, despite the fact that its founder was at one time the wealthiest man in the United States. This PR effort, thwarting the anger of displaced merchants everywhere, is based on Wal-Mart's American-made image, showcasing product lines such as "Faded Glory" and slogans like "Made Right Here," "Support American Made," and "Bring It Home to the U.S.A."

"Advertising is legalized lying." -- H.G. Wells

The reality of the situation is quite different. According to a study released last month by Food and Allied Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO (FAST), and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), of 895 apparel products selected in Wal-Mart stores in Virginia, only 20 percent were actually made in the good old U.S. of A.

Even that number is a bit misleading, because some of the clothing Wal-Mart sells is made by third-party vendors. When it came to clothes manufactured by Wal-Mart itself, only 2 percent were made stateside.

Sweaters
Both these Garanimals sweatshirts
cost $7. The left one was made
in the U.S., the right one in
El Salvador.
The ugliest example of this deception is the Wal-Mart "Faded Glory" line. This cheesy store brand is tailor-made (well, mass-produced) to play to the jingoistic sentiments of middle Americans from coast to coast, or at least the Deep South and Midwest. With ad copy that reads, "Fits the way America lives" (we assume that means pretty loosely), the Faded Glory line must be made in the U.S., right? Wrong. Only 5 percent of the Faded Glory products sampled were American-made; 95 percent hailed from sweatshop nations like Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Wal-Mart claims that they "buy American whenever we can. So you can too." However, the claim does not hold up under scrutiny: The union study found several examples of Wal-Mart products manufactured overseas which were identical to domestically manufactured products.

How do you make sure you're not getting snookered into buying clothing made abroad? It's easy enough to just check the manufacturer's tag and look for the "Made in the U.S.A." label. Though you still might be getting something made in the sweatshops of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, it is still your best.

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