How many of us actually know a person who physically produces a product from scratch, using only local materials? How many of us even know where the products we use every day were made at all, for that matter? I’m betting not many.
My desk is pretty messy at the moment, so let me use that as an example. I’ve got the following things sitting on my desk right now:
Picture frame – made in China
Cell phone – made in ???
Compact flash reader – made in ???
Glass – maybe made in U.S.
Sunglasses – made in ???
Cardboard coaster – made in Germany
Dell flatscreen monitor – made in ???
Some silverware (that I need to sell) – made in Germany
Wooden box – made in China
Decorative tile – made in ???
Out of ten items, that makes one that was maybe made in the U.S., two that were made in Germany, two that were made in China, and five that I have no idea where they were made and no easy way of finding out. (I already searched them for labels, and did a quick internet search without getting applicable results.)
Then there are the stores. I’ve been to a lot of stores over the years, both around North America and in Europe, and you can get much of the same stuff just about anywhere. This is often labeled a good thing (bringing products to people who want them) but what about if you want something that isn’t exactly the same as the things you find everywhere? Or what about if you’d like to buy products that are made in a particular country?
If you’re tired of the sameness everywhere and would like to browse through creatively made items, etsy is a good place to start. Local art fairs and artist shops are great too. There are woodworkers out there too, who can build you cabinets and furniture from scratch — it’s just a matter of finding them.
If you’re worried about the (overwhelmingly large) trade deficit with China, you can try to focus on buying products that are made in the U.S. One person out there has put together a site to help: Still Made in USA.
Me, I’m going to start by thinking more before I buy. In addition to the questions I already ask before making a purchase (do I need this? is it worth the number of hours I have worked to pay for it? do I have space for it? will it last? do I want it? does it fit well? will I enjoy it?) I’ll start adding “can I identify where it was made?” and move on from there.