POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

When "Buy American" No Long Means "By Americans"

by David Trumbull

September 22, 2006

Two of the three remaining U.S. manufacturers of bedsheets are now foreign-owned: one by a Brazilian company, the other by Indians. One of the largest American textile companies announces it is moving a substantial number of jobs out of Virginia and into communist Vietnam. And we all know about the transfer of manufacturing jobs from the U.S. to Red China.

Such is globalization. Jobs go overseas to low-cost countries. And the money Americans spend on imported products is used to snap up control of our remaining domestic industries. It's hard to define exactly what is an American company any more.

And it's not just low-cost East Asian nations. Actually, another, and somewhat contrary trend is for the developed industries of Europe and America to combine to compete against low-cost China and the rest. Think of "American" automobile maker Chrysler, which as a German company.

The Superfine Wool Council --manufacturers of fine worsted wool fabric used in men's suits-- is based in here in Boston (actually in the offices of the National Textile Association, where I am employed) and is incorporated in the State of New York, but sixteen of it's seventeen members are Italian, and the one U.S. company, Warren Corporation of Stafford Springs, Connecticut, is owned by the Italian manufacturer Loro Piana.

The fabric they make goes into suits bearing the label "super 120's"wool or "super 150's" wool, and so forth. It's the finest, highest quality wool fabric made. America is the worlds largest market for these superior quality products. Italy leads the world in production of the finest worsted wool fabrics. It's a natural combo: Italian quality and style with American consumerism and marketing.

The low-cost suppliers in East Asian cannot match it. So they cheat. As consumer more and more recognize that those "super" numbers on label indicate quality, unscrupulous importers and retailers sew in the labels without regard to the truthfulness of the claim. Recently the Federal Trade Commission had to step in to address the problem of imported bedsheets with wildly inflated "thread counts." Similarly, the government must step in to protect the consumer of men's wool suits.

On September 19th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "Wool Suit Fabrics Labeling Fairness" Act. It now goes to the Senate. The Act requires that if a manufacturer or retail lists a "super" number on a suit it must be accurate, or face penalties. The "super" numbers, by the way, are simply a scale developed by the International Wool Textile Organisation. They are based on the average thickness of the wool fiber in the suit; the higher the "super" number, the finer the fiber and the more luxurious the fabric in the suit.

The wool suit labeling act is a good example of our government leveling the playing field with our foreign competitor by attacking their unfair trade practices, such as mislabeling their products.

By the way, for genuine "super 120's" etc. suits locally, from someone who got old-school sarto training in Naples, Italy, try my tailors Antonio (Tony) Natola and Gaetano (Guy) Cataldi, at J&T Customs Tailors on Pearl Street in Boston's Financial District.