I’ve always been sensitive to environmental issues. I reduce consumption regularly, reuse when possible, and recycle religiously. Yet I’ve never felt sufficiently motivated to spend twice the price on a product just because it says “Made in USA” or “Made in Canada” on it. From experience my general feeling has always been that locally made products are generally higher quality, but rarely enough so to justify the price increase.
My mind is changing, though. Take for example China, whose average income has increased 10x since 1990. Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems the prices in Walmart are not what they once were. While Walmart gained immense market share from the 80’s through today based on their reputation for unbeatable prices, I’m not convinced that still holds. A recent trip to my local Walmart revealed Taiwanese-made dress pants at $80 and Bangladeshi dress shirts with seams already pulling apart at $60. And despite these prices, every piece of Walmart clothing I’ve ever purchased has barely lasted, fading, deforming, and generally falling apart after only a couple wearings.
This issue recently came to my attention after a trip to a local boutique shop near my house which specializes in locally made products and is nearing bankruptcy. While I expected sticker shock upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised. Very high quality clothing from great materials (such as bamboo and organic cottons) at similar (or admittedly slightly higher) prices as Walmart. And to top that off, the people running the boutique shop were incredibly helpful and pleasant. This in stark contrast to my Walmart experience, where I parked a half mile away to get a parking spot, then wandered endless super-sized aisles trying to find what I wanted to no avail.
I don’t mean to pick on Walmart, but they’re an easy target. I’m also not trying to say you need to drastically alter your purchasing habits. But I do think you should reconsider buying local. With what I perceive as a gradual leveling of the playing field between locally and foreign-produced goods (in terms of quality/price), and the increasing pressure we all face to create environmentally sustainable practices in our lives, pay a visit to your local shops. In contrast to the dozens of giant box stores popping up all around, I’d bet there are a dozen small shops in your area barely surviving which will be hugely thankful for your business.