There can be a huge difference in quality between goods produced in the US and those produced abroad, something that many people don't realize anymore because they've gotten so used to buying cheap foreign imports and replacing them more often.
When I was in school, I used to buy a new bag every year because they would just tear and fall apart within 12 months. Eventually, getting tired of this, I went online looking for a good bag. I found out about Tom Bihn. Both their management and their production is done in Seattle. The prices are steep, but I decided to take a chance on them, given the good reviews on various sites.
I've now had that same Tom Bihn bag for five years, and it looks exactly like it did the day I got it - not a single tear. I don't think you could say that about any bags produced at an overseas sweatshop.
I was really impressed with Timbuk2, who make their custom bags in San Francisco. I bought one for a friend and while the design was fairly simple and the price was a bit high, it was solidly made.
Fast forward a few years, and I picked up one of their bags at a Mountain Equipment Co-op (not quite a chain store, like REI in the States). This bag also wasn't cheap, but when I checked the label it was made entirely in China. The quality is not bad, but I haven't had a chance to abuse it for a few years. I was mostly disappointed that they seem to promote the pro-American rhetoric while the majority of their channel goods seem to be produced abroad.
I'm impressed with those Tom Bihn bags, because they seem to be uncompromisingly made in America. I'm going to keep them in mind when I need a new bag.
- turn-around for custom goods from China is not 6-weeks. It took a solid 2 weeks to get the bag, which is what I would expect. The cost to ship expedited versus the labour cost is a wash, especially considering they stil had to post the bag to me anyways.
- The goods in-store are still marketed as premium goods; to use an HN appropriate analogy, this is like me telling you that your Mac is crap because you bought from a 3rd party retailer. For reference, this was $150 for a laptop messenger bag. Not a ton of money, but not cheap considering there's no leather, etc involved.
- If you look at the store I mentioned, they're not really big-box. They're in some awkward in-between yuppie place where everything is greenwashed. I still shop there, but I'm pretty disenchanted since this incident.
- This event has, in my mind, destroyed whatever brand recognition they had. The product is alright, but I'd rather support a company that does everything in NA.
The point being, the market're selling into would be more than willing to absorb the cost of local production. I suspect at a point during their growth they were unable to afford to scale up locally, and decided to contract volume manufacturing for the channel. Now that they're well established, I would hope that they would perform an exercise like the one in this article, and see if moving production back makes sense.
I've had small parcels shipped by air from China (eBay, mostly). They typically arrive in less than a week. They could drop ship directly from China to the customer.
My point was, the cost of shipping by air versus hiring an American worker is probably a wash. I suspect they do their custom work in SF because it's a token gesture. Sort of local-washing, versus green-washing.
It's neither here nor there, but I'll happily vouch for the quality of MEC's backpacks, I've used them throughout a sizable chunk of my life, and find they require replacement owing more to folk with sticky fingers than wear and tear - and I'm not the kindest to my backpacks either!
I'm conflicted about just moving to MEC's house brand; I always hear awesome stories about how they source them to be indestructible, and treat their customers very well, but the designs are pretty basic, and they're a dime a dozen in Ottawa. I feel like I'd be at risk of accidentally swapping bags every time I set it down.
As long as we're pimping good American brands, I want to give a shout out to Allen Edmonds, which makes all of its dress shoes in Minnesota. About 3x the price of the cheap crap you can buy at the department store, but they'll last you forever and can be refinished (with new soles, etc) for a modest fee.
Yeah, for some of the models (I think loafers and more casual shoes?) the leather uppers are hand-stiched in the Dominican Republic, ostensibly because they can't find people to do the job in Maine where they used to do it. Most of their shoes are completely made in the USA, though, and I hope it stays that way. Otherwise I might have to switch to buying Aldens...
Funny you say that, I've got a Tom Bihn bag lying around as well with stitching and everything still intact as well. I've probably had mine for around the same time, I've carried everything in it from stacks of books to laptops & heavy bottles of water and not one single frayed stitch or piece of material.
I have a Tom Bihn bag too, but I don't know what kind of bags you were buying. I had an REI-branded backpack from age 13 or so until I was about 23. It broke, and I took back to REI (they'll take anything back) and got credit towards a new backpack, which is still going strong.
Another user of Tom Bihn bags. I was teased a bit for paying so much for laptop bag... But also after five+ years of use, it's still good condition.
I don't think it matters where a product is built. It's the design and build quality that makes the product a good value. Initial cost was high but made up by not having to buy another bag, not having to deal with a torn bag, and not having to buy another bag makes it worth it.