At some point, “Made in America” passed from the realm of Sam Walton and into the realm of yuppies.
As a young kid in the eighties, I remember seeing TV ads that promoted American-made goods. Like this one:
These ads confused me. I recall asking my parents to explain it. The talk of economics was beyond me, but I remember objecting. Isn’t that unfair to people who live in other countries?
Buying American-made goods was the stuff of lower-middle-class union members, salt of the earth types. Then the nineties came and went, and not many people cared about buying American-made goods. Manufacturing went south to Mexico, and then across the Pacific to China and southeast asia. It’s made a comeback in the past few years, but without TV commercials or underwriting from American manufacturers. That’s because there basically aren’t any. It’s welled up for a bunch of reasons: distrust of foreign goods, concern for unemployment in the US, a desire for higher quality materials, and plain old nostalgia.
I’ve tried to buy locally for more than a decade now. Not everything, not all of the time, but a lot.
It’s easy to source food locally. My milk and cream comes from Homestead Creamery. My bread is from Albemarle Baking Company. My meat comes from a local butcher, who buys it from a few local producers. My flour comes from Wades Mill. For the next six months, a lot of my fruit and vegetables will come from our garden. We make a lot of our own butter, pasta, ice cream. Our eggs come from our chickens. And so on.
It was trickier when building our house last year. We were able to source some materials locally-ish—for example, the windows are from Roanoke, the wood flooring is from Madison and southwest Virginia, the light fixtures were hand-blown in West Virginia—but good luck getting local 2x4s, Ethernet, pipe, or drywall. Almost all of it was, at least, American-made.
My white whale, though, is jeans. American-made jeans fall into one of two camps. First are the cheap ones: $30/pair, advertised in the sizes of “S,” “M,” “L,” and “XL.” Second are the expensive ones: $300/pair, handmade in Williamsburg by a hipster collective, each pair hand-distressed by a trustafarian who drags them behind his fixie during his weekend job as a bike messenger. I do not want to buy either of these. I want a few decent pairs of jeans that will not need to be incorporated into my mortgage, but that are made in the U.S. with American-made denim by a company that is likely to exist next week.
Enter Todd Shelton. The Jersey City company sells shirts, pants, vests, t-shirts, and jeans. I ordered a pair of Watts Washed Jeans last fall, for $99. More than I’d ever spent on a pair of jeans, but as much as I’m willing to spend for good-quality, American-made, boot-cut jeans. I received a prompt e-mail confirmation from Todd Shelton. Not the company—from Todd, personally. He wrote a bit later to say that he was backordered on that style, and it would be a few weeks. To apologize, he sent me—entirely unnecessarily—a long-sleeved t-shirt, which I’ve worn about once a week since.
My jeans showed up a few days before Christmas. They didn’t fit—too small. I e-mailed Todd, and a couple of days later I had a new pair, and sent back to the old ones with a label he sent me. It didn’t cost me a cent. I’ve worn those jeans 2–3 days out of every week since. These jeans are the best-made, most comfortable jeans I’ve ever owned. The denim is more substantial than I knew denim could be. I got them broken in after a few wearings, and now they’re perfect. Though I was tempted to immediately order another couple more pairs, it occurred to me that if I did that, they’d all age out at once. Better to space out my purchases to avoid suffering total jean failure in a few years, leaving me walking around wearing a barrel. (Incidentally, have you priced barrels? They’re not cheap. Anybody who is wearing a barrel instead of pants has a very poor grasp of personal finances, on a couple of levels.) And it’s easy to justify spending $99 on these, since I don’t doubt they’ll last twice as long as a $50 pair of jeans.
If you’re looking for American-made jeans, I recommend Todd Shelton.
Need a belt to go with those jeans? I recommend Fox Creek Leather, right down the road in Independence, VA. I’ve worn my nickel buckle dark brown belt every day for three years, as I expect to for many years to come.