Ten bucks says your socks were made in China

I bet your socks were made in China.  I believe I will win this bet for two reasons.  The first reason: lots of socks are made in China.  In fact, I went to the store to buy socks the other day and had trouble finding socks that weren’t made in China.  More on that later.  The second reason: it’s hard for you to check.  I am assuming you unpackaged your socks before you put them on.  No sock that I know of has where it was made stitched directly on it.  That is usually only indicated on the package.  A safe bet, I think.  If anyone can prove me wrong, comment below.  I may owe you some money.

I went to Marshalls to buy socks the other day.  This was partially because I needed socks and partially because I assumed that all of my then current socks were made in China.  I am currently prepping for the “Great Purge” of all my Chinese-made stuff and want to make sure that I have clothes to wear on the day that I get rid of it all.

The particular Marshalls I visited had an excellent selection of socks.  There was an entire wall dedicated to every variety of socks you could imagine.  I mean, it was a veritable smorgasbord of sock.

And to my only-sorta-kinda surprise, just about every sock on the wall was made in China.  From Nikes to Under Armor, Perry Ellis to Nautica, Wilson to Puma, Kenneth Cole to Polo, Timberland to Sierra Club (who knew they made socks?), all were made in China.

About 90% of the socks I looked at and photographed (with my Chinese-made iPhone) were made in China. 

Why are so many socks made in China?  Pietra Rivoli, an economist at Georgetown, wanted to find out.  She wrote “The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy,” where she followed the life of a t-shirt through every stage of production, all the way back to when it was just a little tuft of cotton growing on a heavily government-subsidized farm in west Texas.

I won’t spoil the book for you, but essentially Rivoli found that the cotton and textile industries only barely exist in a “free market.”  Cotton farms are heavily subsidized by the government here in the United States in order to make their prices competitive on the world market (China, India, Pakistan and Brazil, the world’s other major cotton producers, can likely grow cotton for much cheaper).  Conversely, textile factories in China are heavily subsidized by their government in order to dominate the textile industry.

It makes me wonder what the true cost of socks is.

In my mind, the better question is: Can we make socks in Mexico cheaper than in China?  I truly don’t know the answer.  I will do some research and get back to you in another post.

I ended up finding some New Balance socks that were made in the USA.  Strangely, on this particular type of sock, the country of origin varied per pack.  Some of the packs, of the exact same socks, were made in the USA and some were hecho en Mexico.  Same socks, same price, two different countries.  I am not sure how common this is—and it doesn’t make immediate sense to me why New Balance would do this.  Anyway, I bought the pair made in the USA.

Full Disclosure:  For all things outdoorsy, Thorlo is the Rolls Royce of sock brands.  I love their products to pieces.  I was thrilled to discover yesterday that Thorlos are made in the USA (see the American flag on the top right of the package).  So glad I don’t have to get rid of them!

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5 thoughts on “Ten bucks says your socks were made in China

  1. All my socks were not only made in China but purchased in China too – sadly they’re all a little on the small side as in local terms I’m a bit of an elephant. Interesting blog post thank you for sharing.

  2. David says:

    Great job making socks interesting! I’m looking forward to reading more!

  3. Mr. B says:

    I hope you won’t be needing shoes soon. Your experience will be much the same.

  4. Brian says:

    I’m worried about the Great Purge. You’ll have to get rid of a lot of things. Are you ready to ditch electronics, appliances, the plates you eat off?

    How do you treat items that have components which were made in China, but that were assembled somewhere else? Even some products labeled as “made in the USA” suffer from this problem.

    What about eating at restaurants. If you pay for food that’s served on Chinese-made plates, is that a problem?

  5. […] concluding a previous post about replacing my horde of Chinese-made socks, a reader (thanks Brian) wisely recommended that I investigate the origins of my socks’ […]

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