Tag Archives: Apparel

China Trip Post 1 – The Overview


I am back home safe from my trip to China, completely unscathed by Maoism, Red Guards, and dangerous drinking water. I don’t mean to get so personal so quickly, but I kid you not, I was never forced to use Imodium. Not once.

How then shall I regale you, dear reader, with pithy, yet poignant stories of my travels to the Orient? Let me break it down for you.

I will be writing four posts on my trip to China. This first post is a clear-cut recap of my trip. The second post will be dedicated to a discussion I had with Roger, one of the big wigs at Nike in Hong Kong. Roger provided incredible insight into the world of Nike’s manufacturing and supply chain in China. The third post will detail my trip to a garment factory in Cixi City, north of Shanghai. Here you will encounter my fearless factory fixer Phil, who turned out to be one of my favorite folks. And the fourth will document one of the most beautiful places I have ever laid eyes upon. 

With that out of the way, let’s get to it…

I am not a travel writer. Actually, I am not a writer, period. But I am certainly not a travel writer. Good travel writing requires measures of vocabulary, wit, and endurance that I simply do not posses. J. Maarten Troost has all three in abundance. A few years ago, he wrote a book about his trip to China, which is aptly titled “Lost on Planet China.” As one may assume, Troost weaves a sidesplitting tale of his bumbles around China, making all sorts of cultural errors, eating live squid, accidentally finding himself in a brothel and a gay bar in the same week, and barely making it out alive. In short, China utterly bewildered – nay, bamboozled – him.

Like Troost, I was also a bit perplexed by China, though I experienced far fewer mishaps – which is a good thing, not because I renounce adventure, but because I wouldn’t be able to twist the mishaps into Troost-like comedy. But, I am very glad I went. While it would be incredibly foolish of me to say that the quick trip to China deciphered all the intricate riddles of the world’s most populous country, I do believe I have a much better feel for the place.

Here are the basics: I flew from San Francisco to Hong Kong with 15 teenagers who would be embarking on amazing adventures of their own with Rustic Pathways. Once I connected them with their in-country program leader, I ran out of the airport and into the humid arms of Hong Kong, who took me on a dreamlike, head-spinning tour.  I mostly just walked around with my head tilted all the way back and my mouth gaping open in awe. It is a very… vertical city.

After meeting with Roger and stumbling around Hong Kong for a few more days, I flew to Shanghai to meet Phil, who took me to Cixi City, about three hours north of Shanghai. There, I toured two garment factories and fell in love with Phil. I then took the bus back to Shanghai where I had only enough time to take pictures of tall buildings and walk on the Bund before taking the zippy maglev train to the airport. And when I say zippy, I mean it is one of the world’s fastest trains and topped out at 431 km/h on my journey. I have no idea how fast that is in real measurement, but it felt quite expeditious.


After peeling myself out of my seat, I boarded a plane that seemed to only travel half the speed I had just accustomed myself to. I landed in Guilin (finally!), where I spent a week exploring its environs, taking in some of the most picturesque scenery I have ever witnessed.  I also hung out with young people in hip hostels.  Which means I was forced to drink flaming Sambuca on the fourth of July.  U!S!A! U!S!A!

Then I flew back to Hong Kong, picked up 15 teenagers, and then flew home.  It was indeed a whirlwind trip, and I am still recovering, but amazing blog posts are headed your way very soon!

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I’m going to China. No, seriously. I am going in five days.

Dear faithful readers, the Made in China Project is back!  In reality, it never went anywhere.  I have not crumbled under the pressure of not buying Chinese-made goods!  I have stuck to my New Year’s Resolution and am still living Chinese goods free (mostly, my few accidental transgressions will be chronicled soon).

My last post back in March announced that the Great Purge was near.  The Great Purge did not happen.  But life did happen.  In early March, my girlfriend and I split up.  As you could imagine, this took its emotional toll.  The last thing I wanted to do was go through my apartment and tear it to shreds.  Good news though, she and I are still friends, and she is still a fan of the Made in China Project!

I apologize for the absence, but I am back… back in a big way.  I have very exciting news.  I am going to China!  No seriously.  I am going to China in five days.

Here’s the deal.  There is a company called Rustic Pathways that takes high school kids and dumps them in “rustic” locales around the world for the summer.  Apparently traveling to amazing foreign places is supposed to wildly affect your outlook on life.  Whatever. 

Anyway, I applied for a job with them back around Christmas time.  They called me a few weeks ago and asked me if I would be interested in taking a group of kids to China.  I asked them if they had read my blog, because the timing and location of their job offer was just too damn perfect.  They hadn’t.  Whatever.

So I am going to China.  Just applied for my visa a few days ago.  Here is the icing on the cake, the fortune in the cookie: I was hired as a Flight Leader.  I am only responsible to get the kids back and forth from San Francisco to Hong Kong.  The kids join up with Program Leaders in country.  They are the ones that do all the heavy lifting of looking after kids.  Me?  I’m free for 10 days until I have to take them back home.  What shall I do with all the free time?

Since getting the invite, I have done a bit of networking and favor asking.  I found a few people who live in China who are willing to take me to some factories and give me a tour!  So far, I have a footwear tour in Hong Kong set up (with a big company that you have definitely heard of), as well as two tours at textile and apparel factories in Shanghai.

I am stoked out of my mind, but reader, be warned.  I cannot promise anything.  I can promise that I will take some pretty pictures of me gallivanting around China.  I can’t promise that the factory tours will happen, or if I will be able to take pictures.  This is China, they are an authoritarian state.  I will be trying my best; I want to bring you the goods.  But we will have to see what happens.

Full Disclosure:  I can’t disclose who has helped me get the tours because I don’t want to annoy their employers.  Sorry.  Also, Rustic Pathways is not endorsing me in any way.

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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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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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