Friday, July 23, 2010

Do You Know Your Stuff?


Last weekend I was at the farmer's market with a friend picking up produce for the week. Here in Chicago we get local produce from other parts of Illinois, as well as Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. As we walked around looking for the stuff we needed, I told her to check for any tents of farms in Michigan (of which there were a few). Faithful readers are aware that I grew up in Detroit and that I do what I can to help the desperately hurting economy in Michigan.

This got me thinking about purchasing with a purpose. It is, of course, all the rage these days. People buy locally-grown things to help their local economy, to get things fresher and to cut down on emissions for shipping. And with the latest Gulf Coast disaster, people have looked to what they purchase for ways to help out the economy down there. I've written several pieces on the subject, such as drinking local beer, a brewery in New Orleans offering a good solution, using your vacation dollars to stimulate struggling economies and purchasing goods to help international development. But how much do we really think about what we buy?

I usually think about the origins of produce, beer and wine, coffee (to an extent) and sometimes clothing. But I purchase a whole lot more that I never think of. Where was my Ikea bookshelf made? Where was that candle on that shelf over there made? Where were the shoes I'm wearing made? What about the bread I had with dinner, where was that baked? Of course, 9 times out of 10 your answer will be "China," but there are ways around that (not that China's a terrible place).

Lots of businesses make some quality stuff in areas that could really use your purchase. There's a candle store up the street from me that I've never gone to (I usually just grab whatever's cheap at Walgreens and will make my place smell less like a bachelor lives there). There may be a furniture manufacturer in North Carolina teetering on laying off another worker; or a Wisconsin dairy farmer who's having trouble making mortgage payments. Sure, these things may be a little more expensive- and that's no little thing these days- and will take a little bit longer to track down, but it's certainly worth the effort. I hear a lot of arguments about people getting something for nothing through "entitlements," but I hear very little about an obvious alternative solution to help pick them up: buying the stuff they make. You'll probably buy something this weekend, give it a thought- get to know your stuff.


tjk said...

Its difficult to find some products, particularly clothes, that are still made in the U.S. For those who are interested, some, but not all (check the label) New Balance shoes are still made here. Also, some Joseph Abboud and Hickey Freeman suits are still made in the U.S. -- and they look and fit every bit as nice as those made in Europe.

Tim Killeen said...

That's true- clothes made locally are really tough to find. Perhaps the next best thing is to buy clothes made elsewhere but be selective about who buy them from. A start at least. Thanks for the other suggestions.