DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR UNDERWEAR IS MADE?

Thoughts on globalization and clothing manufacturing

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INTRODUCTION

With all the cool designs, eye-catching packaging and associated marketing glitz, knowing where your underwear is manufactured may be mostly an afterthought to your purchasing decision. A recent announcement from Go Softwear about counterfit underwear being sold that is made in China instead of the USA got me thinking about the underwear industry and how underwear should not be considered a trivial factor in global  manufacturing, labor practices and national economies. As underwear becomes an increasingly larger source of revenue for companies (collectively to the order of billions of dollars) those companies will have ever-increasing influence in the quality and conditions of how their garments are manufactured.


MEN'S UNDERWEAR MANUFACTURERS BY COUNTRY


Country of Manufacture Designer/Brand
USA Male Power
  Andrew Christian
  N2N Bodywear
  Greg Parry
  Rufskin
  Go Softwear
  Pulse Underwear
  California Muscle
  G-Storm
Canada Gregg Homme
El Salvador Ginch Gonch
Colombia Mundo Unico
  Steven Even
Portugal Impetus
Peru 2Xist
Egypt Puma Underwear
India Gap Underwear
China Joe Boxer
Thailand Cin-2
  WAX Brand
  DT Clothes
Hong Kong Play Underwear
  Paul Frank
Australia AussieBum

The interesting conclusion to be made here is that there a high number of underwear labels manufactuered in the US although the big players like 2Xist and Cin-2 are sourced to foreign countries. Among the various highlighted brands in this survey it's clear that California Muscle and AussieBum have brands and marketing that are strongly linked to their country of origin. If you learned that your AussieBum briefs were made in Hong Kong or that your California Muscle trunks were made in El Salvador it might seem somewhat ironic. For the rest of these brands their chosen country for manufacturing doesn't tie very closely to their identity so they are free to pick and choose the factories that execute their product designs. It should be noted that labels often change factories so what is listed in the table above may be currently different.

Within the various countries where clothing factories exist, you'll find that a large percentage of underwear manufacturing is consolidated to a relatively small number of key facilities in the US, Asia and South America. As a result of centralized manufacturing you’ll find that high-end brands to low-end brands are actually all made in the same facilities with the same workers at the same sewing machines working rotating shifts to crank out briefs, trunks and boxers for worldwide consumers.

That’s right, one hour it might be $5 Hanes that are coming off the lines and the next it could be $20 Calvin Kleins. Each underwear designer/manufacturer has representatives that oversee each shift which can affect the level of quality control that is enforced for a given brand. In theory, this means that the higher-end lines would have stricter standards but in reality there is only so much variation in durability and quality that you’re going to achieve when all the equipment and workers are the same across the board. Underwear isn’t the only garment that is manufactured in this method of centralized facilities. You’ll find $25 generic brand denim jeans can be followed by $200 designer-label denim jeans in factories across the world.

Ultimately the reason why we pay 2X or more for a designer brief versus an department store brand is due to marketing, specific design or material uniqueness, not the location of its manufacture. We will pay more to own a pair of high-end underwear because it can be considered a status symbol to be able to spend a lot of money on something very few people will actually ever see you wearing. In other cases specialty fabrics help to differentiate brands such as CIn-2’s bamboo and 2Xist’s soy underwear lines that have entered the market recently. Signature designs or unique patterns can help make for a draw like the Aussiebum wonderjock that has garnered an enormous amount of PR for its unique “technology”. In each case consumers are more likely to make their purchase decisions based on the marketing of these lines than by their manufacturer’s country of origin.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS


Am I writing this article to highlight any known labor issues in the underwear industry? No, I do not personally know of any current practices that would be considered morally wrong or inhumane. I think the point of my thoughts here are to bring to the forefront of your thoughts for the day the reality of how our purchase decisions feed into the larger global landscape. Whether those purchases happen to be underwear or any other of a million products out there on store shelves the underlying concept is the same: our decisions have an impact on how other people work and live.

As an actionable item I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to support your local or regional underwear designers (should any exist). An example I have is in the US Pacific Northwest there is Pulse Underwear of which I have written several reviews on, as well as Danial Webster Design in Seattle, WA. Do I exclusively buy and wear those localized brands? No, of course not, if you read the other reviews on the site I have underwear from almost every major brand manufactured from all over the world. I do feel strongly, however, that the concept of buying clothing that supports a regional business or entrepreneur who has a quality product, rather than paying out to a huge mega-global brand is definitely a worthwhile thing to do. So the next time you’re making an underwear purchase decision, and you’re thinking about the cut, the fabric and the design, you might also check the label to see find out where it’s made and consider that as another factor in your final decision.

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