Tag Archives: Made in the USA

Currently Reading: Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Helped Save an American Town.

Factory Man by Beth Macy has nothing to do with fashion, and very little to do with textiles, but it is one of the most interesting and compelling stories I’ve read in a very long time.  It’s the story of John Bassett, who despite all odds has managed to keep his furniture business, Vaughn-Bassett, producing in the United States.

John Bassett was born into the the Southern furniture business.  His grandfather, J.D. Bassett founded Bassett in 1902, and from there the various branches of the Bassett family formed furniture factories all over south-western Virginia.  For years the companies were highly successful, even weathering the Great Depression without worker lay-offs.  After John Bassett’s grandfather and father died, he was presumed to be the next head of the family business, but instead his brother-in-law was put in charge.  In 1982, John Bassett was essentially edged out of his family’s company.  He decided to leave and work as the head at Vaughn-Bassett, which was a company owned by his wife’s family.

At this point I have to say that keeping all the Bassetts straight was a difficult thing.  Thankfully there is a family tree in the back of the book to help keep who owned what in order.

Things continued to be fine in the furniture business until the 1990s.  At that point, workers began noticing groups of Asian people coming through on tours of the factories.  As amazing as it might sound, the factory owners welcomed people from Taiwan and China to come in and observe.  In many cases they took notes and even video taped the operations.

The furniture makers should not have been surprised when Chinese-made furniture began showing up in the American market.  At Vaughn-Bassett, which makes bedroom suites, they noticed a chest that looked very much like what they were making, but that had a price tag of only $100.  John Bassett bought one as a sample, had his engineers disassemble it and work up a cost projection.  They realized that the cost of the materials far exceeded $100.

So Bassett sent his son and an interpreter to China to try and locate the maker of the chest.  After days of searching, the factory was located.  John himself went to the place to talk with the head of the Chinese factory, and was told point-blank that it was in his best interest to close the US factory and to buy from China, that they could and would continue to undercut American furniture makers until they were forced out.

Today this story does not seem to be very surprising, but in the early 1990s, the first ripples of the Chinese way of doing business were just beginning to reach the US.  John Bassett went home and studied the trade laws and realized that the Chinese were guilty of a practice called “dumping.”  You flood the market with a cheaply priced product until the competition either joins you or folds, then you can raise prices and make a profit.

John Bassett then began legal proceedings against the Chinese.  It was not easy because he had to get the other bedroom furniture makers to join him, and many were reluctant because they were already involved with importing the cheaper goods.  Eventually, the case was won, and Vaughn-Bassett and the other companies who signed on with the complaint were granted millions of dollars in duties that the Chinese were forced to pay in order to continue to do business in the US.

Vaughn-Bassett took its share and reinvested it in the company, buying the latest equipment with the aim of becoming more efficient and more competitive.  But other companies were not able to survive even with the influx of cash.  The original Bassett eventually closed all seven of its US factories.  They put their duty money into developing retail stores.  Today, Bassett is mainly an importer and retailer.  The company survived at the cost of the communities that made Bassett rich.

All in all, there have been around 300,000 furniture manufacturing jobs lost in the US since 1990. Today Vaughn-Bassett employs around 700 people, and other companies, mainly makers of upholstered furniture, have also managed to keep domestic production.  With the closing of Bassett, the town of Bassett lost much of its infrastructure. Other towns in the area have unemployment rates as high as one third.

I’ve heard some know-it-all experts say that America does not need manufacturing jobs as long as we have the design and engineering that goes into manufacturing.  Try telling that to a 45 year old man or woman who worked for Bassett for twenty-five years and suddenly found themselves jobless.  All the fast food and retail jobs in the world can’t absorb 300,000 workers.

The book is very well researched, with what must have been hundreds of hours of interviews conducted by Beth Macy.  I was just thinking what a great movie this would make when I read on Macy’s website that a HBO mini-series based on the book is in development. What could have been a pretty dry story instead comes across like a spy novel.  The only negative thing I have to note is that Macy can’t resist trying to mimic the Southern Appalachian accent when recalling conversations with John Bassett. It comes across as patronizing.

I was given a digital review copy of Factory Man by the publisher, through Net Galley.  Just be aware if you read books on Kindle or other e-reader, that there are lots of end notes.  In my review copy they were not linked to the text, so accessing them was very inconvenient.


Filed under Currently Reading, Made in the USA

Made in the USA: Hats by Satya Twena

Late last year I ran across an interesting Kickstarter campaign.  A young hat designer, Satya Twena, was hoping to save one of the last two remaining hat factories in Manhattan.  Twena had been working with hats made at the Makins Factory when she heard that the factory was closing.  Her business had become dependent on the factory, so she decided to try and save it.  She ran a very successful Kickstarter, and the factory is once again up and running.

Contributors to the campaign got to pick out a hat, and I finally settled on this navy woven straw fedora.  It’s a bit different from the hats I usually wear, but I liked it and thought, “Why not?”

There were dozens and dozens of hats to choose from, but I’m very happy with the one I got.  It fits perfectly and looks snappy.

The hats are made the old fashioned way using vintage machines and hat blocks.  The materials are hand blocked using steam and skill to fashion the shape.

I’ve noticed lately that Twena’s company has been getting a lot of press coverage, including Glamour and Lucky magazines, along with the  Today Show.  If you are interested in a new, top quality hat, there are plenty of styles for sale on the Satya Twena website.

And I even found a photo of me wearing the hat several months ago at the Liberty antiques Festival.  I added a scarf for a bit more color.  Seriously, I had women stopping me wanting to know where I got the hat.  One even tried to buy it!


Filed under Made in the USA, Proper Clothing

Designer Pamela Levenson of Popina Swimwear


A few weeks ago I wrote about my latest Made in the USA find, Popina.  The designer and co-owner of Popina is Pamela Levenson.  She recently answered a few questions for me about her design career and the influence of the past on what she creates.

1.  Were you interested in fashion as a child?  Did it ever enter your mind that you would grow up to design swimsuits?

I have always loved fashion and dreamed my whole life of having my own line and boutique.  I never really dreamed that my outlet would be swimwear, but a lot of weird coincidences kept pushing me to spandex.  For example, I worked at a swimwear boutique that cut and sewed swimwear to order in college (never dreaming of doing it on my own) – but drawing on that background proved to be helpful!  I also randomly worked at a company that sold swimwear fabric when I first moved to Portland and bought an industrial serger from a customer.  When I could not find a suit I loved in Portland in the wintertime, I had the materials, the machine and the basic know how and that was my start.

2.  Do you sew? 

I do sew, I originally did all of the Popina production myself and I still sew up all of the prototypes.

If so, when and how did you first learn the skill? 

I first learned to sew in high school and in fashion school it was required to sew.  To learn pattern making, I took a pattern making class and refined my skills as I went.

3.  What is your fashion background and experience?

I graduated from Brooks College in Los Angeles and most notably worked for Guess as well as a handful of smaller manufacturers.

4.  How was the idea for Popina formed?

Basically I could not find a swimsuit I loved in October in Portland, Oregon so I stayed up all night before a trip to Mexico the next day.  From there I got compliments, made some for friends, then sold consignment and finally took the leap to get a 250 sq ft brick and mortar store.  I now have two boutiques; one that is 1,800 sq ft and one that is 3,000 – making us the largest women’s boutique on the west coast – I never dreamed that would happen in my wildest dreams.

5.  So many of your swimsuits are vintage-inspired.  What are the direct influences of the suits you create? 

I really look to styles of the past and look to update them with help of modern construction and materials.  I love looking at old vintage photos and current styles to make the classic styles fresh.

6.  I’m really attracted to the fact that the swimsuits are made in in the USA.  What are the benefits of manufacturing your product locally?  

The principal advantage is that I can drive 15 minutes and talk directly to my production people.  That greatly improves communication it also allows us to do smaller production runs.  We have not looked very hard at doing production out of state or overseas for that matter, we hope we never have to.  Our life is complicated enough as is, it is really nice to have a straightforward production process.

My thanks to Pamela for taking the time from her very busy schedule in order to let us have a glimpse into her world of design.

Photo copyright Popina.  Do not copy, pin or tumble!


Filed under Designers, Made in the USA

Made in the USA – Popina

I’m always interested in finding clothing that is manufactured in the US, and I’ve gotten pretty good at finding US made items in many categories.  So I was surprised that I’d not somehow run across Popina in my search for US made garments.  Okay, the truth is that I’ve not shopped for a swimsuit in 15 years, and the thought of it was too hard to even consider.

But when I got an email from the people at Popina, asking if I’d like to try a suit in the privacy of my own home, I took a look at their site, and then said yes.  The line is very much inspired by  vintage swimwear with the one-piece suits being reminiscent of the swimwear of the 1950s.  They also have a selection of tankini suits and two-piece suits.

The Popina line is designed and made in Portland, Oregon.  As a nod to their city, they also carry Jantzen swimwear.  Jantzen was one of the great Portland companies that, unfortunately, is no longer made in the city.  They are, however, still in the swimwear business, with quite a few styles that are based on their designs of the past.

I chose the suit shown above, which Popina calls The Grace, from their retro swimwear collection.  When it arrived, I tried it on, and surprise of surprises, really liked the way it looked.  The fabric is nice and substantial, for a lack of better words.  At any rate, it is not thin and flimsy like so many of the swimsuits I’ve looked at in stores in recent years.  And the front and side seaming seemed to give a bit of a corset effect without feeling constraining.

The interior of the suit features a shelf bra. The front of the suit is fully lined, but the back is not.  I felt like the bra gave plenty of support, and added to the flattering line.  I really can’t say enough nice things about this suit.  It’s pretty, flattering, and well made in the USA.

If you live in the Portland area, there are two retail locations, and a new one will be opening next week.  Details are on their facebook page, along with a link to the newsletter (where you will find a 20% off coupon code good until March 13).

Soon, I’ll be featuring an interview with Popina designer and co-owner, Pamela Levenson.

Photos 1 and 4 are copyright Popina Swimwear.  Suit for review provided courtesy of Popina Swimwear.


Filed under Made in the USA

Marge Crunkleton Mannequin Heads

I recently had the opportunity to visit the mannequin head workshop of Marge Crunkleton.  Many of you who are in the vintage business will recognize her name and her work.  Marge makes reproductions of vintage head mannequins, and is known as one of the best in the business.

The heads are specially molded from vintage mannequins, and then Marge paints each according to what is era appropriate.  It was fun seeing the unpainted heads along side the finished ones.  And Marge is happy to work with customers on specific colors for hair, eyes and lips.

Marge herself is a hat collector, which she has displayed throughout her workshop.  And the little people are her creations as well, and she also molds and creates dolls.

You can see the full line of Crunkleton Heads on her website, Crunkleton.com.  If you are interested in ordering a head, don’t hesitate to call Marge, and she can work with you on your order.  She normally sells her heads for $175, but will sell you one for $160 if you tell her Lizzie sent you!

And now, a bit of a question from Marge.  She has the hat above, with the blue crown and a very pale blue horsehair veil.  Do you suppose this was for a bride?


Here is the hat after Marge has spent some time working with the floppy brim.  She says that she could have raised the brim even higher, but that she can tell that it is going to sag again in time.  Still, one can better tell how the hat must have been worn originally.


Filed under Made in the USA, North Carolina

Made in the USA – The Cat’s Pajamas

I really am thankful for pajamas, because pretty much the only time a woman of 57 can get away with wearing a pink and black Scottie dog print is when she is at home and visitors are not expected.  The same can be said, I suppose, for prints with puppies and cupcakes, cats in trees and miscellaneous cocktails.  These are the sorts of prints for sale at my latest made in the USA find, The Cat’s Pajamas.

When it comes to pajamas, I’ve been a Bedhead devotee for the past ten years or so.  That’s when I bought my first pair – a pair I’m still wearing, by the way.  But I came across a recommendation for Cat’s Pajamas and decided to give them a try.

First, the fabric prints at Cat’s Pajamas are very whimsical and brightly colored.  I like that in a pj.  You can let your inner kid come out when dressing strictly for your home.  On the negative side, though the pajamas are sewn in the USA, the fabric is imported (from who knows where) and to be honest, it is not quite as soft as I’d like.  Still, after four washings, it has softened up without any color loss to the print.

Another plus is that they offer a variety of styles in most prints.  I’m short, so I ordered the capri length which was just right for me.  Some of the prints are available in both flannel and poplin.  And they have plus sizes.

Time will tell whether they hold up as well as Bedhead does, but for now, I’m very satisfied.  This pair was on sale, and the shipping is a reasonable flat rate of $5.

And if they would find a US supplier for the fabric, I’d really love them.

Nice packaging that includes a cute eye shade.


Filed under Made in the USA, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing

Made in the USA – Liberty Bottles

Accessories come and accessories go.  Time was, a lady did not leave her house without a parasol.  Today’s must have accouterments might include a ceramic coffee cup or a water bottle.

I ran across Liberty Bottleworks while looking for something else, but I liked what I read and so I ordered a bottle.  I’m really impressed with the product, and so I’m sharing it with you.  First of all, it is made in the USA out of 100% recycled aluminum.  There are no BPA materials and the bottle is coated to prevent metal leaching into your drink.  The mouth of the bottle is wide enough for ice cubes.

The design I have is a topographical map of part of the Great Smokies National Park, but there are dozens of great designs.  I especially love the Mass Transit map series.

Click to enlarge

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Filed under Made in the USA