Commentary: Made In America

American Flag

By now you’ve probably heard that the Federal Trade Commission came down on Shinola last week, for using the phrase ‘Made in America.’ To be honest, I think we all expected this. The FTC had fired a few warning shots across Shinola’s bow over the last eight or nine months.

Hodinkee caught the news and covered it well here, here, and here (that’s actually where I first saw it). But when they put the link to Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis’ open letter response out on social media, the masses were quick to start talking smack about Shinola. Many portrayed themselves as the cognoscenti, but really, the comments I saw were by folks who were more of the great unwashed (read, uninformed) than true watch aficionados.

At any rate, it’s not our intent to do that here – or even comment on Shinola’s declared attitude toward the situation.

What I’d like to do instead is discuss what ‘Made in America’ really means – legally, as in to the FTC, and ‘spiritually,’ as in to a typical U.S. citizen who wants to buy American.

As fans of high end watches – mostly made in Switzerland (with nods to Germany and, in a few instances, Great Britain) – we know what ‘Swiss Made’ means.

From, the “official website of the Swiss watch industry,” a watch is considered to be Swiss if: a. its movement is Swiss, b. its movement is cased up in Switzerland, and c. the manufacturer carries out the final inspection in Switzerland.

In addition, a movement is considered to be Swiss if: a. it has been assembled in Switzerland; b. it has been inspected by the manufacturer in Switzerland and c. the components of Swiss manufacture make up for at least 50 percent of the value, without considering the cost for assembly.

The regulation digs deeper and deeper (and work is being done to strengthen it even more), but you get the idea. And we know that’s legislated by the Swiss government.

And we also have a sense that each country has it’s own definition of what constitutes being made in said country.

So I think it’s a little surprising to most people that the FTC puts very stringent requirements where on items labeled ‘Made in America’ are manufactured. More stringent than the Swiss, whom many take to be the most rigorous of manufacturers.

In fact, in order to be labeled “Made in USA” (equivalent to ‘Made in America’ in the eyes of the FTC), every component has to be actually manufactured in the USA. Assembly or finishing of imported parts doesn’t make it. The FTC has said so, specifically.

But what does Joe American think?

Caveat: here’s where I go more into opinion than fact.

I think if Joe American wants to buy American, he’s doing it from patriotism. He doesn’t want to pay for jobs done overseas. And so, when he sees ‘American Made,’ he wants to be sure every part of whatever he’s buying originates on American shores, right down to the mining of the metal, and the pumping of the oil that gets refined into plastics.

Of course, you may see the problem when I say, “the mining of the metal, and the pumping of the oil that gets refined into plastics.” How can you be sure? And does it matter, if the parts and the refining were done here?

Well, I’m not saying he’s right or wrong. I’m simply saying, I think that’s what Joe American wants when he sets out to buy American.

Clarification from the FTC and absolutely transparent labeling can only help the cause, don’t you think?


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