I just learned that, this week, Citizens of Humanity, the jeans-maker located in Huntington Park, California, was targeted in a class action lawsuit over the accuracy of its “Made in USA” labeling. The plaintiff in the case is a San Diego resident named Loiuse Clarke, who contends she was defrauded by the company because the Boyfriend Jeans she purchased included “fabric, thread, buttons, and/or rivets” made outside the United States. The suit also targets Macy’s, where the jeans were purchased. (You can read the entire document here.)
My initial reaction was to scoff at the lawsuit. When I see “Made in USA,” I assume only that the final “making” takes place here: the clothing is sewn and finished; the car is assembled, the chair is built. If the product is more American than that, the maker usually brags about it: “Made in the USA from 90% USA-made components” OR “Sewn in the USA from American-grown cotton.”
In the jeans industry, this is even more prevalent, with some manufacturers going so far as to cite the farm where the cotton was grown, or the mill that made the thread or produced the denim.
If I have any doubts or questions about an item, I simply call the company and ask. Most are forthcoming with the information. So, Citizens Of Humanity didn’t violate the rules as I see them, but I thought I’d check what the government has to say on the matter.
I went to the Federal Trade Commission’s website, which revealed that a product bearing the simple “Made in USA” label must be “all or virtually all” made in the U.S. They give the following example: “If the gold in a gold ring is imported, an unqualified Made in USA claim for the ring is deceptive.” So, if an American jeweler hand-making a gold ring can’t say it was made in America when foreign gold is used, can a jeans maker call its jean “Made in the USA” if foreign denim is used?
The FTC gives another example, saying that a lamp with an American body and an American shade cannot carry the “Made in USA” label if its base was foreign-made because the base is “a significant part of the product.” This was a more stringent definition than I expected to see, though all the FTC asks is that the label provide more information, such as “60% U.S. content,” or “Made in USA of U.S. and imported parts.”
So, perhaps Citizens of Humanity should have sewn a more descriptive label into its jeans. I’m sure we’ll see more of that now.
Still, I’m sad to see this lawsuit, which will may result in little recompense for jeans-buyers and lots of wallet-lining for lawyers. Personally, I would prefer to deal with an incident where I felt defrauded in a clothing purchase in a different way; a more old-school, “Made-in-USA’ way if you will. I would demand my money back, tell all my friends and family about my complaint and spread the word online. If other people were as outraged as I, the word would spread, complaints would be made and the company would change its labeling. If the aforementioned groundswell did not occur, I would just assume that most people didn’t give a hoot and maybe I should pick another battle. Then I’d go have a piece of pie.
How about you? Leave your comments below.