Bloomberg Businessweek

(Mostly) Made in America

By Susan Berfield on March 21, 2012


Here’s one way to gauge the growing interest in buying and selling products made in America: When David Seliktar wanted to set up a website offering goods produced only in the U.S., all the obvious names were taken—including Seliktar’s will open for business at the end of March, with some 200 vendors selling everything from furniture to clothes, toys, jewelry, and food. Prices will range from a couple of dollars to a couple of thousand.

“If everyone spent even 10 percent more than they do now on American-made products, our economy would improve,” says Seliktar, who has helped run a family jewelry business in New York.

Separating hype and hope from reality can be challenging. Last year Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) proudly announced that more than half its products were made in America. Not quite. Turns out that half its sales were from products made in America. And that’s because half its sales came from groceries and household goods, two categories easily sourced in the U.S. It also helped that sales of electronics and clothes—two categories not easily sourced in the U.S. at Wal-Mart prices—had shrunk.

Then, last month, the Detroit Free Press looked into Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit T-shirts and found some had not been made in Detroit, after all. Designed and sold in Detroit, yes, but manufactured in India, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, even Ohio.

Seliktar, 33, says his vendors aren’t required to make all their products in America, only the ones they sell on his site. “Otherwise we’d have just three vendors,” he says. “Right now, if a supplier or manufacturer makes 20 percent to 30 percent of their products in the U.S., that’s a lot.” He doesn’t have the resources to visit each company, so he requests samples: “You can Google things to see where the components are made, or to see if the materials they use are actually available in the U.S.” does require companies to sign contracts guaranteeing their products’ authenticity. “But if someone is going to pull out a tag, sew in a ‘Made in the U.S.’ tag, and submit it to us, there’s no way to tell,” Seliktar says. “We hope people do the right thing.”

Among the companies offering goods on is Dry Divas, which sells glammed-up shower caps created in Los Angeles from laminated cloth manufactured in the South ($22 to $28). Parfumologie, another Los Angeles company, will be selling its American Line cologne, inspired by the military. The fragrance oil comes from France, but everything else is from Southern California. A 3.4-ounce bottle will cost $45, with a portion of each sale donated to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The Army one is my favorite,” says Seliktar.