I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

Will America buy American Made Products?

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Ken Freeman, Maker of the handcrafted, American-made Vermont Rolling Pins

Since the beginning of the 2016 presidential election cycle, media airtime, click-bait headlines and radio broadcasts have been dominated by claims and prognostications of what’s best for America. At the forefront of this media attention has been American jobs and manufacturing—or lack thereof. The consensus is our jobs are gone and, depending on your political leanings, only Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump can save them.

Trade and labor policies can certainly help, but there’s a lot more to the equation.

As the general election approaches, American job creation will continue to be a hot topic. With the National Week of Making approaching even faster, I can’t help but reflect on it—not from a political standpoint, but a practical one.

As much as politicians want to spin American jobs and manufacturing into a problem only their policies will address, that’s simply not the case. There is an opportunity for you, me—and everyone else—to influence our destiny, regardless of political affiliation.

In 2015, Consumer Reports found 80% of Americans would rather buy American goods than products produced overseas. American Certified put it at 66%. A 2016 poll from the Associated Press found 75% of Americans of all income levels would like to buy American goods. That’s impressive, but why aren’t there more American products? Why aren’t manufacturing plants popping up across the nation?

It turns out we’re not always walking the walk.

That same AP survey found consumers prefer low prices over Made in the USA products, which they describe as “too costly or difficult to find.” The patriotic two-thirds from American Certified’s survey were told to exclude price and quality from their assessment, so take those results with a grain of salt.

There’s no denying it: in many categories, American Made goods are now more expensive and harder to find, but the quality of American products typically means they will last longer and not need to be replaced as quickly. And while most Americans are on a tight budget, you don’t have to risk your mortgage to make an impact. As we all know, it’s those small purchasing decisions that can ultimately shift the tide in a new direction.

Growing up in Detroit, my autoworker dad was firmly committed to buying the very products he built. He extended that behavior and his values to other household purchases. With four kids and one blue-collar income, we admittedly lived paycheck to paycheck. Yet my parents believed, “We don’t have enough money to buy cheap stuff.” They saved up to buy quality, or did without.

As author Ellen Ruppel Shell stated in her 2009 book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, “In the world of cheap, ‘design’ has become a stand-in for quality. Companies such as H&M and Zara offer consumers the look they love at a price they can live with—but at what true cost? The genius of IKEA and other cheap-chic purveyors is that they have made fashionable, desirable, and even lovable objects nearly devoid of craftsmanship. The environmental and social implications of this are insidious and alarming.”

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Gina Locklear, underrepresented Maker of sustainable, American-made Zkano socks

Consumer purchases represent 70% of the U.S. economy. That’s a great place to start influencing change. If each one of us were to allocate just 10% of our purchases to products that support an economy-changing ideal, like being Made in the USA, there would be a big ripple effect. That’s our thinking behind the idea of Citizen Commerce®.

I’d love for those purchases to be at The Grommet because we have spent nearly eight years cultivating brilliant products adhering to specific shopping values (such as Made in the USA, Underrepresented Entrepreneurs, or Social Enterprises), but we’re not the only place where it’s possible. Shop at Etsy, Uncommon Goods, ScoutMob, your farmer’s market, or locally owned stores.

Find U.S.-made products through sites like USA Love List, American Made Matters, or Buy Direct USA. Look for the “Made in USA” label when shopping. Doing so supports U.S. companies and small businesses, which just so happen to create two of every three new jobs. That is the surest way to bring back U.S. production.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “But your site sells a lot of products made overseas.” You’re right. And do you know what the number one reason for a Maker’s inability to manufacture domestically is? It’s too expensive and causes the product price to be too high. It’s a classic Catch 22: the cost of manufacturing in the U.S. will drop when the volume of products being manufactured here increases.

American jobs and manufacturing cannot and will not come back overnight, so if we want this to happen, we should be prepared to play the long game. We at The Grommet are. Annie Clark, who is stocking her New Hampshire store’s shelves with quality products made in all 50 states, is. It’s the Maker Movement and you can be a part of that, too.

Here’s one guarantee I can make about American Made products: online outrage and punditry does little. If we want the economic landscape of the country to change, we can’t wait for the next occupant of the White House—just open that wallet and put your money where your mouth is.

Change comes at a price. The good news is, if we all chip in just 10% of our discretionary purchases to this cause, we can reduce the cost for companies to manufacture in America. As it becomes less expensive for companies to produce here, more companies will move their manufacturing back—and more U.S. jobs will be created. And isn’t that what everyone wants, regardless of who they plan to vote for in November?

So what say you, America? Do we want more American jobs and products?  

It’s up to us.

21 Responses to “Will America buy American Made Products?”

  1. Helen Harding

    How inspiring!!!! I agree Jules, we need to support American made products. That is the reason I run in New Balance and drive a Chevy!! We need to start at home if we want to support and grow the US economy. I also agree that we need to be willing to pay more but understand that the quality will be better as well. Let’s hope this movement continues to grow!! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Given your <8 minute mile pace in your half marathon, I'd say you are doing quite well in your American made shoes. Thanks for the enthusiasm and support here Helen.

      Reply
    • warren j haynes

      Hi good report I in joy reading it, Yes we need to make thing at home, and keep the American economy runing on an upper balance. We need more togetherness, good job!

      Reply
  2. Andres Galeano

    Awesome article and I am in complete agreement. We cannot rely on one, or even a few people to make this change. The power is in the people and we need to make the difference together!

    Reply
    • julespieri

      At Grommet we have given a name to that: Citizen Commerce. The simplest way we can be activists is by voting with our dollars.

      Reply
  3. gerryveteran2013

    I agree wholeheartedly, Jules! I have started checking for where products are made, and always buy the US product when it is marked. Unfortunately, Helen … Like you I have been a faithful GM buyer for 35 years and was dismayed to learn GM was beginning to produce cars made in China. I will not buy them.

    Reply
  4. mariane white

    I am encouraged by your article and would love seeing a national movement supported by all the powers that be. I average receiving about 13-15 catalogs a week in my mail box and every one is filled with items “imported”!! We have schools starting; Holiday shopping soon to begin full force etc and now is the time to have factories in the USA promoting their wares!Our govt should provide needed assistance for start up firms to come to the aid of the people and country. Remember how the country dug in and readied and won WWar 2? Well, this is a conflict our country could win if they energize corporations to once again step up for the good of the nation!!! ggwhite27@charter.net

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Mariane–you are a woman after my own heart. I totally agree with the idea of a national movement that gets people putting their money where their heart is.

      Reply
  5. pat belfer

    I barely skimmed your essay, since I am a believer. And also a relatively frequent buyer of goodies from The Grommet. Mostly, I do not mind paying a premium for something unique and wonderful. I do, however, find your shipping charges outrageous. And, yes, I am a member of Amazon Prime.
    With so many shopping sites offering free or really inexpensive shipping, I think you need to change your policy.
    I am very sure I will continue to check every daily email for new and exciting thingies. But I am an old lady with a small fixed income, so I need to be judicious..

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Hi Pat, Thanks for being a supporter. I appreciate your deciding to also pay $99 a year for Amazon Prime. I would love to offer free shipping on all purchases–for now I can recommend you gang up your purchases as much as possible to reach the $50 free shipping we do indeed offer. I know it is not ideal, but it’s the current reality. Our companies are not at the size of Amazon and they, and Grommet, lose money on shipping. It’s not free to put American workers and American shipping boxes in American trucks, planes, and trains on American roads, alas. Other companies jack up their prices to cover the cost of that fuel, vehicles, and American jobs. Only Amazon is big enough to lose money on shipping and not care–they take the margin out of the prices they pay their suppliers and making money on other services only they are big enough to build. Maybe someday we can somehow teleport a product to you, but that day is not today.

      Reply
  6. Debora

    I shop Grommet and check your emails daily and while I wholeheartedly agree with your premis here many of the products sold on this site are NOT made in America. I, like others here do not mind paying a bit more for made in the USA but often the price is double or triple what I might expect to pay….also I have purchased items here that in my opinion were subpar for what I paid which certainly does not speak well for “made in the USA”. We own three American made cars and I always look for made in the USA products when doing any shopping. I support that when I can justify the price/quality difference.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Hi Debora, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It is indeed true that not all Grommets are American made. Our community does love discovering international treasures that we bring over the US for the very first time. And some of our US companies have been foiled in their quest to produce at home, for the reasons outlined in the post. You, Grommet, and this community are the bridge to a future where our Makers can make in the US, or not, but they need a larger scale of US demand to re-create economical US manufacturing capability.

      Reply
  7. David Baron

    I love Grommet. Look forward to your listings. But I live abroad. Most items that I might buy are simply not costly enough or large enough to warrant Bongo and other such devices. Several might fit in a standard envelop are arrive by simple post. Not possible!?!

    With PayPal in this arena now, maybe things might be more direct and simple. But having Grommet itself take over its overseas fulfillment would be a large step forward in enabling more of us to put our money where our mouth is.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      David, Thanks for the feedback. I do understand your POV, having lived overseas twice. We do need to crack this international shipping issue.

      Reply
  8. Carolyn Scott

    SADLY, The premise that made in America means it’s better made isn’t always true. I seriously wish it was as a three-time purchaser of Elkhart Indiana manufactured motor homes. If you go to the owner blogs for any RV brand you will see the issues we have from day one that are related to shoddy materials and poor workmanship. The slow response time we experience in securing replacement parts and getting warrantied work done gives us no sense of any attempt to make up for the aggravation or any plan to do better on the assembly lines. If one chooses to buy a motor home the consensus is, get over it, Just be prepared to list all the glitches and leavev it at the shop for weeks or months while getting repairwork done, and hope that all the glitches show up within 1 year because the labor @ $100/hr plus parts, is a killer. And MADE IN USA rings hollowwhen you know it’s a mess or something falling apart because the assembly line workmen were not well trained or supervised to maintain quality and profit stood ahead of quality in selection of moving parts.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Carolyn,
      Part of Grommet’s role in the world is to separate the wheat from the chaff. We take this seriously because if you can’t trust us, we can’t help the good guys. We would not launch a product with the kind of issues you are citing. Yikes!!

      Reply
  9. plumfanatic

    Just my opinion…Perhaps, if people could realize and believe that they and their dependents do not NEED to own every new thing they see, the cost of the made in the USA products would be more affordable. We may even learn to appreciate what we have instead of how much we can acquire. Too much ends up in landfills soon after purchase. Buying locally is a key factor in the economy of every town, city, state or country.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Totally agree. I am all for conscious consumption. We are soon going to add a new “value” tag to our Grommets to highlight the ones which are built to last a lifetime.

      Reply

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