Monthly Archives: February 2012

Sylvania Wrote me back!

You may recall that a few weeks ago I was perplexed to find that a replacement light bulb for my headlight was marked “Made in Germany or China.”  This ambiguous labeling inspired me to seek out the history and legal parameters of country of origin marking.  After a long search, I found that the laws were fairly lax.

I decided to write Sylvania (the maker of the bulb) and ask where the bulb was actually made.  I wrote: “I recently purchased an H7 standard performance light bulb for my car.  I am very conscious of where the products I buy are made.  You indicate on the packaging of this bulb that it was ‘Made in Germany or China.’  Well, which one?  I am concerned that this is misleading to consumers, as well as in violation of 19 U.S.C. 1304 which stipulates that the country of origin must be clearly and exactly marked.  ‘Made in German or China’ has a certain non-exactness about it.”

No joke, they responded the very next day.  Their response:  “Good Afternoon [Josiah]. Thank you for contacting us with your inquiry. The H7 is made in China and Germany and that is why the package says China or Germany but the bulb itself is clearly marked with what country it is made in.”

First and foremost, thank you Sylvania for responding so promptly.  I appreciate the feedback, though I would suggest that you start using more commas… 

So, the bulb is made in two different countries, that is the reason for the ambiguous “or.”  And, according to their response, it is on the bulb itself where the exact country of origin is indicated.  Out to the chop shop…

They were right, the country of origin was clearly marked on the bottom of the bulb… just my luck, this bulb was made in China.  So again, I have broken my New Year’s Resolution.

But is it really my fault?  I suppose it was a bit of a risky bet on my part, but I can’t deny I feel sort of swindled.  This can’t be a legal practice can it?  Presenting two countries of origin to the customer, one who is synonymous with quality and efficiency, and the other with crap?  This can’t be right.

This time, I have decided to actually contact the gubment to see if Sylvania’s practice is legal.  I checked the Customs and Border Patrol contacts page to find an email address, but they don’t seem to have one.  I will have to call them.  If they answer their calls like they help people at the DMV, I should have an update for you guys by Sunday.  Wish me luck.

While you wait, here is a cute story.  I hit the slopes last week.  The first night in the lodge, I noticed a handsome sweater near the fireplace.  Who could have forgotten such a beautiful garment?  I checked on the sweater every night.  It remained there, lost and unloved, for the entire week.  As I left, I decided that I would adopt the sweater and take it home with me.  Stealing?  No!  Salvage.  Glancing at the tag, I was thrilled to find that it was just my size.  Glancing a little harder, I realized that this sweater and I were not meant to be after all.  But I did not let it remained orphaned!  I gifted it to my brother who gave it a fine home.

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90% of my Shoes were Made in China

After 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’ companions: my shoes. Over the course of the last month, I have been prepping for the “Great Purge” to make sure that I am not left naked, or at least, not barefoot, afterward.

Well, it is a good thing I checked my shoes.  Let me put it simply: If the Great Purge was to happen tomorrow, I would be left with one pair of leather boat shoes and some soccer cleats (all I would need in my perfect seafaring, soccer-playing world).

Prepare yourself for an itemized shoe breakdown… I own, well owned, eight pairs of shoes: two pairs of leather work shoes, three pairs of casual shoes, and three pairs of athletic shoes. All but the two pairs previously mentioned were made in China. And unfortunately, the boat shoes were in disrepair. Essentially, I had to replace them all.

Consequently, the shoes went in the trash, and I went to the store. Because I am not rich, I would not be able to replace all eight pairs in one go. My wallet dictated that I could only buy four pairs: two for work and two for play. And honestly, that’s OK. I can live with four pairs of shoes, which is a greater number of shoes than what is provided to children by TOMS. (Most TOMS shoes, by the way, are made in China.)

My girlfriend and I hit up Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade. We went to Steve Madden first, as that is where I purchased my old dress shoes. After about a minute of checking labels, I knew that I wouldn’t have much luck here. (My girlfriend, who isn’t boycotting China, bought some smart black pumps.) About 90% of Steve Maddens are made in China. The rest came from India or Mexico.  Aldo was largely the same, with a few shoes originating in Romania or the Dominican Republic.

Skunked at both stores, I headed to Nordstrom. While Nordstrom still had a number of Chinese-made shoes, I found some brown boat shoes that were made in Indonesia and some classic black dress shoes that were made in the, wait for it… USA!

With my work shoes settled, I now needed to find a pair of casual shoes and a pair of trainers.  My previous casuals were Vans, and I was determined to make my future casuals Vans. Is there a more relaxed pair of kicks than Vans?  No.  No there is not.  Unfortunately, both of my old pairs of Vans were made in China, which made me very nervous.

After looking at about 400 tags, I learned a very interesting thing. Common shoes like Vans, Converse, and Nike are about 95% made in China. But, if you are persistent, you will find a few shoes from each brand that are made elsewhere. I have no idea why, that’s just the way it is. At the end of the day, I walked away with a pair of Vans Authentics and a pair of Nike trainers that were both made in Vietnam.

The most important thing I learned from my shopping expedition was that about 90% of the shoes we commonly wear here in the United States are made in China. But unfortunately, I am now left with more questions: Why are so many shoes made in China?  Why aren’t more shoes made in Vietnam, Indonesia, India, or the Dominican Republic?  Can’t we spread the manufacturing love?

I really have no idea.

Full Disclosure:  I do not own a pair of TOMS shoes. I do like the idea of buy-one-give-one products though. I wear Warby Parker glasses, which gives one pair of glasses for each one that you buy. These, unfortunately, are also made in China. But because these are prescription glasses, and will take some time to order, I will have to replace them after the Great Purge.

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Prepping for the Great Purge and one funny short story

As you all know, my New Year’s resolution is to attempt the seemingly impossible: live without Chinese-made goods for one year. The task involves not only boycotting things made in China, but also cleansing my belongings of all Chinese-made possessions (save for Apple products, because honestly, who can live without them?). I have received a few comments from folks who want to know a bit more about the “Great Purge” as I have come to call it. To appease my readers, I am writing this post to clear up any confusion about what the fateful cleanse will entail.

I have decided that the Great Purge will happen over the course of March. Soon enough that it will keep true to my resolution (and keep you entertained), but far enough away to allow for significant preparation—you know, buy the essentials before I trash everything.

You may be asking, “Well, why the preparation?” The long and short of it being to prevent the sudden realization that I am out of clothing, or in need of bed linens, or a toothbrush, to name only a few.

Why not rid yourself of everything at once? Why not do it in one post? Mostly, this is because of the large amount of work it requires and the little time I have to do it on the weekends (when I do much of my writing and researching). In addition, my job requires long hours of grading and lesson planning that spills over into, and greatly occupies, the weekend. But, I am also planning to do this over four or five posts in order to focus on one room, or area of my life, every week. This strategy will allow for a more in depth study of what I need to get rid of, and, consequently, what I will have to re-buy or live without.

Because I am not rich, nor a masochist, there will be a few exceptions. So I might as well be upfront with you and list them:

  • I will get rid of all of the made in China items in my apartment that are mine. I will not discard my roommate’s belongings that are in the common areas, because, well, I am assuming he would be pretty unhappy if he walked in the front room one day to place himself on the couch, only to find it missing (just checked: made in China).
  • I will not get rid of the large appliances that came with the apartment. Luckily, I won’t have to (just checked: all appliances are by Frigidaire, which are “designed, assembled, and engineered in the U.S.A.”).
  • I will not discard any of my work material that the school requires me to have.  This is because I want to keep my job (just checked, my coach’s hat: made in China).
  • I will not get rid of any of Apple products. I am not sure I really need to explain why.
  • I will not toss anything that is of significant sentimental value. The only thing that I can think of off the top of my head is my first mandolin. It was $50 from, and was, of course, made in China.
  • I will not get rid of any gifts whose getting-rid-of will offend the gift-giver.  Why? Because relationships are worth so much more than stuff.

OK, that just about wraps up the “Great Purge,” now on to a funny story. The other day, the light bulb in my closet burned out. No big deal. I went to the cupboard and pulled out a replacement bulb, which was prominently marked with its country of origin. I’ll let you guess… China. Dang! I had to dress in the dark for a few days until I went to the store and found a bulb that was made in the USA. I only buttoned my shirt incorrectly once.

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