Shopping for American-made holiday gifts

Los Angeles TimesNovember 21, 2012 

BIZ MADEINAMERICA-GIFTS 2 LA

Patsy Johnson, 58, holds one of the many quilts that she designs, makes and sells at Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles in California. Johnson quit a 25-year career as an insurance broker, saying she was tired of corporate life. (Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

DON BARTLETTI — MCT

  • How to find gifts made in America Edibles, such as fruit or nuts, may be one of the easiest ways to go native. For vino fans, another option is wine memberships. Some specialists and wine shops will send subscribers two bottles a month with a subscription. Use your laptop or smartphone – searching for “Made in America holiday gifts” brings up millions of links to stores and guides. Online retailers offer a wide selection of U.S.-made options. San Francisco-based ModCloth, for example, carries more than 1,700 pieces of clothing, accessories and gifts made by independent American designers, co-founder Susan Gregg Koger said. Other Web markets such as Etsy, which specializes in handmade or vintage items, function like the digital version of the craft fair. Shoppers can find all manner of inventive and handmade gifts, especially after the recession pushed more out-of-work creative types into crafting goods to sell online, said Matt Stinchcomb, the company’s vice president of brand and social responsibility. A flash-sale site called the Made Collection specializes in products manufactured in America. Los Angeles Times

Get ready for a red, white and blue Christmas.

With a sluggish economy, high unemployment and a just-finished presidential election laser-focused on jobs, many consumers say they are more eager than ever to buy gifts made right here in America.

Shoppers don’t have to rifle through stores or flip over labels this year. Many retailers are proudly touting their wares with made-in-the-USA credentials in hopes of wooing shoppers eager to show their patriotism through their pocketbooks.

“Finding presents that are made here makes them special. It’s usually more unique and not something that you can find just in Target,” said Jodi Dirk, 31, of the Los Angeles area. “So if I find stuff this holiday that’s made in the U.S., that’s a big bonus.”

That’s not always an easy task. Industry experts say that 85 percent of the toys sold in America are made in China and more than 95 percent of the clothes are produced overseas. Most consumer electronics, too, are assembled beyond U.S. borders.

But across America, experts say, shoppers are on the lookout, and stores and designers of all kinds say they are pushing their homegrown roots.

Menswear designer Joseph Abboud proudly splashes “made in the New America” on its website, while contemporary chain Club Monaco rolled out a Made in USA collection of men’s clothing. High-end label The Row, helmed by actresses-turned-design-moguls Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, uses garment factories in New York and California.

“Consumers care more about products made in the U.S. now, and all of our branding is crafted around being made here,” said David Koral, co-founder of high-end denim line Koral Los Angeles, which makes all its jeans in Southern California.

A modest selection of U.S.-made playthings can be found at big retailers such as Walmart and Toys R Us, but parents who are serious about made-in-the-USA toys will have to devote more time to tracking them down.

Simply searching the Internet will turn up an array of toy makers that have been in business for decades churning out kid-friendly items here at home. But think classic toys, such as building blocks, rather than high-tech ones with remote controls, smartphone applications and other digital whirligigs.

At Maine-based Roy Toy, co-owner Sue Dennison said shoppers scoop up the company’s wood building sets. Some bestsellers – including a 37-piece kit for a log cabin – have been produced since Roy Toy was founded in the 1930s.

“In the 1990s, making our toys in America actually worked against us in a lot of ways because everybody was importing from China,” Dennison said. “Now you would be hard-pressed to find a small mom-and-pop store that didn’t have a section of made-in-America toys.”

The 2007 recalls of lead-tainted toys made in China pushed parents to scrutinize where their children’s dolls, model cars and other playthings came from, said Laurie Schacht, co-publisher of The Toy Insider guide. As a result, some companies moved at least part of their production back home to soothe shopper worries and also burnish their brand’s reputation.

“That big panic was one of the first things that really pushed the button on made in America,” she said.

But it also is part of the same buy-local movement that has boosted farmers markets into the mainstream and pushed restaurants to source ingredients from neighborhood producers, experts say. Now consumers are increasingly eager to buy a necklace made in Los Angeles or a pair of jeans made in Brooklyn, N.Y., for loved ones this holiday season.

With that in mind, both small businesses and giant companies like Caterpillar have brought some production back to America. There’s also a wave of laid-off workers who have started their own small ventures baking cupcakes, creating jewelry or designing dresses. Even people not directly affected by the sluggish economy know that buying American-made goods promotes American jobs.

“It’s connected to the buy-local movement, but it’s also connected to buying green,” said Joel Joseph, co-founder of the Made in the USA Foundation, which recently released a 115-page holiday gift guide, “since you don’t have to ship them thousands of miles across the Pacific.”

Dave Schiff, whose flash-sale site Made Collection specializes in products manufactured in the U.S., said shoppers are ready for fashionable and luxurious American products. “Now, people are motivated and realize purchases of American-made things can help this country.”

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