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In 2007 America imported 82.5% of the total $50.9 billion worth of cotton apparel and household goods from 10 countries, with China first at 25.6% of the total, India at 7.2% and Mexico followed with 5.9%. Even though the US is the largest exporter of cotton, we turn around and import the finished goods to retail in our stores. Quotas on imported textiles ended the first of 2005. Since then China's percentage has enjoyed an increase. These stats are for cotton apparel only. Many other apparel categories exist.

The trend has been for companies to move their manufacturing process overseas. For example, Levi Strauss closed 58 US manufacturing plants between 1981 and 1990, moving 25% of its sewing operations overseas. Levi's accelerated US plant closings in the 1990s, and closed its last US plant in San Antonio, Texas in January 2004. Levi Strauss now partners with Wal-Mart.

In order to keep prices low, retailers like Wal-Mart must consider closely the source of their goods. 80% of Wal-Mart's suppliers are from China. Wal-Mart's average super center is 200,000 square feet or more, built on 20-30 acres of land. The space to build the store often comes from open green spaces, which get paved over causing new issues with run-off. While the largest retailer is working hard at environmental approaches, which is to be commended, have we really addressed the underlying systemic issues? Perhaps the conversation ought to be around the entire consumption model including the cost of transporting globally. Are we really attempting to accommodate these levels of product choices to American consumers? If the answer is yes, then is the Wal-Mart model worth it even if main street America goes bankrupt, considering the total cost to the society?

We all know these are complicated issues, and one of the best approaches that can be taken is to educate ourselves. Follow the product back to its source in order to understand the complete cycle. The story of stuff is a creative way to see an overview snap shot of the entire life cycle of consumer products. The origin of our products and the people or machines that make them is a fascinating and empowering study. In the research, remember some of the following subjects/terms when learning about how products are made: fair trade, American made, sweat shops, carbon footprint, made locally, transport of the product, and the calculation of the real cost. Some important factors that make up the real cost of the item are the fair wages paid to the worker and the long-term environmental impact by producing this product.

Camey Jenson‘s background in finance as a CPA allowed her to gain experience in many different industries. Her passion & interests have led her away from the corporate environment. See


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