Recently, I put together a list of over 100 clothing brands that are manufactured in China. I did so because I’m fascinated by the underbelly of children’s fashion. From sequins to spandex to $88 price tags, who is making my kids’ clothes?
I had long noticed many high-end labels tout their Europeanness. Baby Boden is “glorious British style”. Reima bills itself as a traditional Finnish brand that celebrates nature and the Scandinavian way of life. Both brands manufacture in China, a fact many consumers would lament or hotly deny – even when presented with unimpeachable proof like that MADE IN CHINA garment tag.
As I’ve plunged deeper into the world of mommy groups, I’ve discovered there is an abiding stigma against anything made in China. (But you can scroll down and just read that list of brands if you want to cut to the chase.)
Researching this list is my response.
I hear Chinese-made fears articulated from conservative and liberal quarters alike. Mostly, it’s not an overtly racist comment, befouling an entire nation of Chinese people. It’s more nuanced. I especially see this in Buy Sell Trade clothing groups on Facebook.
“Oh, Hanna Andersson is manufactured in China now? Figures…the quality has gone so downhill.”
“Where is that brand made?” inquires a potential buyer about an unfamiliar brand. Translation: It better not be Chinese.
Open Disdain for Clothes Made in China is the Norm
The Buy Sell Trade groups where I see these “Made in China” concerns are actually quite left-leaning. Yet I see “Chinese crap”, “toxic made in China”, and “cheap Chinese” crop up all the time. Cheap. Ch-. China. Ah. Such unfortunate word association. It just rolls off the tongue so naturally.
I kind of get it. Ask Google a question about any clothing brand, and it will auto-finish it with the Internet’s most popular search. Just start typing “Is [insert brand]…” and Google will return a few suggested searches with “Is [insert brand] made in China?” at the top.
Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka are just a few other countries that produce fast-fashion garments in similar to worse conditions. Consumers have tunnel vision when it comes to made in China stigma.
Fact is, many brands proudly advertise their clothes are made in other non-White but non-Chinese countries and show pictures of smiling brown women wearing traditional clothing. They’ll be glowing statements made about how products made there are “uplifting” local villagers.
Why, I wonder, is it better for other people to be raised from poverty than Chinese people? Why is helping only some poor people a bragging point? Why are South Asian textile workers not vilified for the sins of their government?
Anti Made in China Language is Socially Acceptable
Language against garments made in China is acceptable in polite conversation. Quite simply, the disdain people express is low-key racist (some would argue high-key). Let’s be honest. “Made in China” is just coded language to say shitty quality.
Face it. China is the Boogeyman. There is a pervasive belief that made in China clothes are, at worse, covered in formaldehyde and toxic chemicals. Or at best, cheap shit. In fact, there are a number of mommy bloggers who write about proudly boycotting clothing made in China. And another anti-China mommy blogger falsely recommending Hanna Andersson as an ethical, European brand alternative. (I added in the comments that Hanna Andersson manufactures in China and other third-world countries. My comment was not approved.)
The majority of mommy group commenters and bloggers are less scathing in their language. But as one mom sums up general belief: “You can just assume most of it is made in China if it is too cheap.”
And while I’m not a “mommy blogger” per se, I do want to come out as a decidedly Pro-Made in China Mom. And Blogger.
CHINA IS THE CLOTHING CLOSET OF THE WORLD
Cheap clothing with large stitches on paper thin fabric is made in China. High-quality, organic clothing is made in China, too. Luxury brands manufacture their clothing in China. Any fashion industry insider will confirm this.
The Emperor with No Clothes was clearly not from China; China clothes the world. The factories, supplier relationships, and shipping logistics have all been refined over the past decades. I’d wager over 75% of your closet is made in mainland China.
These 100 brands do some, or all, of their garment production in China. Even brands with organic clothes like Frugi, Primary, Milkbarn, KicKee Pants, and Eileen Fisher. Your favorite clothing company, or its parent company, is probably on the list.
100+ BRANDS MADE IN CHINA
- 3.1 Phillip Lim
- 7 For All Mankind
- Abercrombie & Fitch
- Aden + Anais
- Alexa Chung
- Ali Ro
- American Eagle
- Ann Taylor
- Arrow Shirts
- Badgley Mischka
- Bobo Choses
- Burt’s Bees (clothing)
- Cat & Jack
- Cole Haan
- Columbia Sportswear
- Disney (clothing)
- Doc Martens / Dr. Martens
- Dolce & Gabbana
- Donna Karan New York / DKNY
- Ed Hardy
- Eddie Bauer
- Eileen Fisher
- Emile et Ida
- Forever 21
- Frugi (Frugi even shares this fact, visibly, on their website. I thought that was worth a call-out.)
- Gerber (clothing)
- Goumi Kids
- Hanna Andersson
- Hervé Léger
- Hugo Loves Tiki
- Hunter Boot
- J. Crew
- Jamie Kay
- Jojo Maman Bébé
- June & January
- Kate Spade
- Kenneth Cole
- KicKee Pants
- Kyte Baby
- Konges Slojd
- L.L. Bean
- Levis Strauss & Co.
- Livie & Luca
- Louis Vuitton
- Maileg (Maileg Mouse)
- Marc Jacobs
- MarMar Copenhagen
- Matilda Jane
- Meri Meri
- Michael Kors
- Mini Melissa
- Mini Rodini
- Monica and Andy
- New Balance
- Nine West
- Northface, The
- Old Navy
- OshKosh B’Gosh
- Petit Bateau
- PINK Victoria Secret
- Quincy Mae
- Ralph Lauren
- Rare Editions
- Rylee + Cru
- Scotch & Soda
- See Kai Run
- Stella McCartney
- Stride Rite
- Tea Collection
- Ted Baker
- The Children’s Place
- Under Armour
- Vera Bradley
- Victoria Beckham
- Victoria Secret
METHODOLOGY FOR PUTTING TOGETHER THIS LIST OF 100+ BRANDS MADE IN CHINA
It took several days of research to put this list together. There are challenges with identifying all clothing brands that manufacture in China.
- Brands are not forthcoming. Many brands state that they manufacture “overseas” or “in East Asia” and that you should inquire directly for more info. Brands like Matilda Jane tout that their garments are “designed” in the United States and manufactured in other countries. For other brands, “China” is tucked into a list of several countries. These lists are never alphabetical which would place China near the top; China is always hidden away in the middle. I’ve seen brands that boast their garments are made in a host of developing countries, but ““never in China”.
- Brands know that consumers are less willing to buy “Made in China”. They’re not lying; they’re just not disclosing cold facts that will hurt their bottom line.
- If a brand is not boasting “Made in USA” (or “Made in [Insert Other Western Country]”, then it’s a fair bet that their garments are made in China. And even if the brand is made in the US, there’s a good chance the fabric and raw materials come from abroad.
- I found this data on brand websites, company newsletters, quarterly earning reports, or third party business directories. Fewer than half of the featured brands’ websites actually share the country or countries where their garments are made. For many brands, I couldn’t find any data. Hanna Andersson, for example, is not transparent about where their products are made. I did read plenty of blog and forum comments bemoaning China, but I found no sources with factual support. (Update: I found two Hanna Andersson garments in my daughter’s closet with a “Made in China” tag.)
WHEN BEING CRITICAL OF MADE IN CHINA IS JUSTIFIED
You might think okay, sometimes China does get a bad rap but China has earned it with their human rights violations and poor working conditions. China is viewed as the largest, most problematic source for worker rights violations, child labor, sweatshops, and cheap, toxic goods. (Spoiler alert: China is not.)
In fact, I shared this post with liberal-leaning moms in a couple of Facebook groups. And that was the general consensus: China gets blamed unfairly for some things but deserves it because of all the evil the government does. I unpack that logic, then the rally cry is we need to bring back manufacturing jobs to the United States. Unpack that line of thinking, then the final argument fallback is that China treats the Uighurs terribly.
I’m not making light of China’s inhumane treatment of the Uighur population. It’s a deplorable human rights atrocity. But when I hear consumers have a knee-jerk reaction to made in China merchandise being “cheap” or “toxic”, I seriously doubt they are thinking about the Uighur group – even if the quality or garment production were somehow correlated to China’s mistreatment of minority groups.
Myth #1: China is the World’s Largest Violator of Worker Rights.
FALSE. The International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) did a 2017 study of the countries with the worst worker rights records. China didn’t even make top 10 worst. Many North African and Middle Eastern nations have work conditions that would make China blush, including Burundi, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. This study (you can read it in full here) is the gold standard for in-depth worker rights studies and has been referenced by EthicalTrade.org, Bloomberg News, The Hill, Politico, and Washington Post.
As the economy of China has rapidly developed, China has begun introducing labor reforms with the aim of matching international standards (as set out by the World Trade Organization). Worker rights are trampled by some employers in China, and protections do not match those of a worker in Denmark or Canada. But overall, China is improving. China does have minimum wage laws and child labor laws. Chinese workers have staged strikes and protests against many international companies, like IBM, Lenovo, Nokia, Honda, Toya, Brother (sewing machines), and Foxconn, a primary supplier for Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Hewlett Packard. Through these strikes, Chinese workers have won improved working conditions, higher wages, and adherence to their rights under Chinese law like social security payments of 11% of their salary.
Laws and reforms are not always uniformly applied. Chinese workers in poorer areas are still more vulnerable to being exploited than Chinese workers in larger, more prosperous urban areas. The further Chinese workers are from the central government’s reach, the more likely they are to experience unfair working conditions.
The Chinese government opened their country to Western expansion and manufacturing forty years ago. Japan was the first foreign company to set up shop in 1978. China clearly has a lot of catching-up to do in terms of improving workplace safety. But the United States did not pass the Fair Labor Standards Act (aka Child Labor Laws) until 1938. OSHA was introduced in April 1971. Most Americans have labored, or have parents who have labored, in pre-OSHA work conditions.
At present, the ITUC rates these other countries as equally bad as China: Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cambodia, Benin, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Fiji, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Laos, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
Myth #2: China is the World’s Cheapest Labor Market and China Under-Cuts Everyone With Slave Labor Wages.
FALSE. In recent years, many international companies have shifted their manufacturing away from China to much cheaper labor markets. Forbes has referred to it as “the exodus” of Chinese manufacturing.
Only a few decades ago, China was an attractive landscape for companies wanting to lower costs: a huge, young workforce and no real workplace regulation. International companies were able to grossly exploit workers. However, this has resulted in a more prosperous Chinese population. Work conditions have improved, some regulation has come about (although not uniformly enforced), and competition and specialization are driving up the cost of labor. By 2020, the average wage of a factory worker was $6.50 per hour which is on par with the average global minimum wage of $6.36 – and close to the United States’ federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Manufacturers are moving away (at least in part) from China because China is expensive. Manufacturers are moving to cheaper labor markets like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Honduras, and Pakistan. Many of these markets are viewed more favorably than China by U.S. consumers. It’s unlikely, however, that manufacturers will dump China completely. There’s too much infrastructure (factories, transportation, logistics) that has been built up over the past several decades. It’s an expensive, time-consuming, and risky investment to build infrastructure in other markets with volatile governments.
Myth #3: European Brands Are Made in Europe (So They’re Safer & Higher Quality)
FALSE. Europeans make crap too. European brands certainly have a high-glam, seductive sort of reputation that the U.S. consumer will pay a premium for. (Häagen-Dazs certainly exploited our belief that European quality is better, duping the American market into paying 2.5x more for European-sounding ice cream. In fairness, the quality was better. Häagen-Dazs is a luxury ice cream brand. The company knew Americans would only be willing to pay more, though, if they thought the brand was European.)
European brands are often not manufactured in Europe. And there have been instances of shoddy quality and working conditions in every country around the world: Europe is not exempt. Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom are European countries that have a record of systemic or repeated violation of workers’ rights.
I go into more detail in the expansive list above, but a number of European labels are manufactured in China, including Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga, Burberry, Hervé Léger, and Chloé.
I’ll also add that I’ve lived abroad in France and personally purchased many cheaply made garments there, including a favorite faux-silk blouse. I would share a picture of that shirt, but that garment has long ago gone to shreds. It’s lying somewhere in a synthetic-never-decaying-never-rotting heap of rubbish. Bad quality. Bad for the environment. Made in Western Europe.
Myth #4 China Commits Human Rights Atrocities
TRUE. China has a record of human rights violations, from imprisoning outspoken government critics to repatriating North Korean refugees. Presently, the main spotlight is on its minority interment camps where more than 1 million Uighur and other ethnic Chinese are forced to study Marxism, renounce Islam, labor in factories, and face widespread torture and abuse. The Chinese authorities call these re-education camps that provide much needed vocational training, and also a means to fight extremism. There are wide-spread, corroborated reports of torture, sleep deprivation, beatings, electric shocks, and other punishments.
This is absolutely appalling. This cannot be discounted. But I do want to add that the U.S. government has focused on anti-Chinese news and Sinophobia (anti-Chinese sentiment) for over 130 years.
Chinese bad guys get more news coverage than non-Chinese bad guys.
INDIA OR GERMANY VERSUS CHINA
As counterpoints, I’d like to take a look at India and Germany
First India. India has a similar population size as China, but even poorer working conditions. India does have formal labor laws, but they are more piecemeal, vary by region, provide fewer protections, and are less enforced. Even more problematic, the majority of the Indian workforce are not covered by formal labor laws. There are no limitations as to how many hours per day a laborer may be required to work in India and the country also has a large cottage industry. In this set up, workers labor at home to produce textile and artisan goods as subcontractors for larger companies. Working hours are longer, work conditions are unregulated and often health hazardous, and the pay is less. Child labor (exploitation) is prevalent. But India’s (child) labor conditions don’t trouble the U.S. consumer nearly as much China’s.
Perhaps this is because India is perceived much less as a major industrial, economic, or military threat, and receives far less scrutiny for its human rights record. The Indian government has a record of banning religious minorities from obtaining citizenship, caste-based discrimination, ignoring caste-based hate crimes and murders, arbitrary arrests and beatings, corruption and bribery are rampant at all government levels, and systemically ignoring domestic abuse and rape. There are repeated stories of women sentenced to be raped or gang-raped, by other village men, for the crimes of men in their family. In rural areas, tribal justice rules. But even in cities, India’s authorities turn a blind eye and men rape and beat women with impunity.
Now Germany. The World War II Holocaust mantra of “Never Forget” has been forgotten. The U.S. consumer has shown a forgiving spirit for White Northern Europeans. Germany has a stellar reputation for premium-made products, never mind its role in the Holocaust, two major wars, anti-Turkey racism, and a resurgence of Nazism. In 2019, a politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party was killed by a neo-Nazi. And last year, Germany saw a 72% increase in anti-immigrant crimes from the previous year. Over 5,200 cases of far-right violence against immigrants were recorded, (that’s 14.24 per day). That’s not counting anti-Semitic crimes that were up 16% last year, for an additional 2,300+ incidents total including a gunman who killed two people trying to force his way into a synagogue on Yom Kippur. 7,500+ incidents of ethnic related violence, murder, and other hate crimes, and a troublesome past, isn’t a few bad apples. It’s a systemic problem.
I could continue this exercise with country after country. And point to other recent and ongoing genocides around the world, including Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, and Nigeria. But the abiding truth is we’ve always hated China.
WE’VE ALWAYS HATED MADE IN CHINA
We’ve always hated things (including people) made in China that have made their way onto Western shores. The Chinese were hated from the start of their arrival in the U.S. in the 1850’s.
Initially Sinophobia (anti-China sentiment) was justified by crude eugenics and race theory: these slope-eyed, yellow, China men were moral degenerates. 19th and 20th century American politicians and journalists called the Chinese an “alien, inferior, and idolatrous race” and “a curse to our country” and “hideous and repulsive” to look upon.
And, of course, there was anxiety over the Chinese people stealing American jobs.
The Chinese were so reviled, in fact, that Chinese (looking) nationals and Asian-Americans were targeted ruthlessly by the Ku Klux Klan in California. Beatings. Churches and businesses burned. Murders. Even a mass lynching of Chinese nationals in Los Angeles. Amid this reign of terror, the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 was passed.
Not only were the Chinese banned from immigrating to the United States, it also required Chinese residents (even those born in the U.S.) to carry special certificates of residence from the IRS, or risk deportation or hard labor. Bail was only an option if the accused Chinese was vouched for by a “credible white” witness.
In 1902, the Chinese Exclusion Act was upheld as constitutional and a ban on Chinese immigration was made permanent. Over the next few years, the Act was expanded to include other undesirable groups including Japanese, Indians, and other non-White immigrants through the Immigration Act of 1924. American-born citizens, of Chinese ethnicity, were ineligible for U.S. citizenship until 1943.
For 19 years US born individuals were denied US citizenship based on their parents’ Chinese DNA. (What the AF.)
Later on, anti-Chinese sentiment (including death and violence) was justified by our fear of Communism.
AND WE’RE AFRAID OF CHINA, TOO
And now the U.S.’s China critique is less about their hideous looks and repugnant character and more about China’s human rights record.
Modern anti-Chinese sentiment seems to stem from American anxiety about the economy and China’s growing power. “Rise of China” and anti-Chinese related headlines and searches have been so widespread (relative to its population in the globe) that “China” was named the top news story of the 21st century by the Global Language Monitor. The Global Language Monitor measures the appearance of difference news topics and stories, around the globe, as they appear in newsprint, electronic media, social media, and blogosphere. China is a huge country (1.4 billion), but even before Covid it was capturing a disproportionate amount of global headlines. Initially, headlines were about America’s trade deficit and job losses to China, and now the dominating concerns are the environment and human rights.
As Pew Research indicates, Covid has only made Americans more afraid. 66% of Americans say they view China’s rising power as a major threat, and 91% say it’s better for the world for the United States to be the world’s leading power. Older people have a more unfavorable view of China than younger people, but across every age group (18 and older), the majority of Americans have a negative view of China. And other white people (Western Europe) are afraid of China, too.
I could go back to the list again and again, making it longer, adding more brands and working in more data, more links, more sources. But the list would grow far too long to manage, and my goal is not to be an inscrutable point of reference for all things made in China. There are other directories online.
Really what I want to drive home is that we need to re-think how we view “Made in China” garments. Instead of the dialogue being how “cheap” these garments are, maybe it bears a broader conversation about how we can all do our best to buy quality-made, ethically sourced products from the USA and other parts of the world.
When I initially wrote this article, it was a response to all the mom group comments and mom blog stories I was reading about problematic, cheap Chinese clothing. I naively thought if I shared a list of all the high-quality brands that do manufacture in China, I could change their minds. Almost the opposite happened. I kept hearing new reasons why made in China could be “bad” and it was definitely ok to be “critical of China”. There was an acknowledgment that “other” people had “racist” reasons but there are “non-racist reasons” too (theirs).
“Ok, China does make some nice brands, but what about their role as the biggest offender for sweatshops?”
“What about Nike and child labor?”
“What about human rights and the Uighur concentration camps?”
“What about how we need American jobs back here?”
One mom touted three Scandinavian brands she preferred “any day of the week” because of their European qualities for style and safety. I said I loved those brands too. And informed her in neutral words that all three of those labels are made in China.
She blocked me.
Anti made in China fears are rooted in old or dated information, misinformation, and an anti-Western bias towards China and how China is reported in the news. China is held to a higher standard for human rights, work practices, and environmental practices than any other country on the globe.
Of course we need to think critically about the goods that we buy. But among affordable consumer textile goods (women’s pants that cost under $50), I can’t think of any that are produced in the United States (or Canada which has equal market acceptance). If you know of one, please let me know in the comments. I would love to explore. Even higher end brands with ethically made goods at steep price points ($128 trousers) manufacture in China and other developing countries. And I’m talking about all levels of the supply chain, from how and where their supplies are sourced to the sustainability of the buildings where these goods are produced.
And finally while I’m not of Chinese ethnicity, I am of East Asian (Korean) ethnicity. I’m not sure if this is a distinction anyone makes when they express qualms about Chinese-made goods. But to a “Chinese” looking person, when I hear these concerns it evokes high school history lessons about the so-called “Yellow Peril” of the 19th century. As a Chinese-looking person, I find these comments distasteful and ignorant on good days. And racist AF and threatening on bad ones. Brutal, naked racism today against Asian-Americans is real.
EXTRA FINAL THOUGHT – BE AN ALLY
You might still feel more uneasy about “Made in China” vs “Made in Bangladesh”. Decades of bias and news stories and beliefs are built into those waves of unease. I get it.
But the next time you see someone write something ridiculous, like that Brand XYZ is a British made brand when it’s not, or that Chinese clothing is cheap and that’s why the seam is coming undone, you’ll ask questions.
“Why do you think it’s made in China if it’s cheap?”
“Would you say that to me if I were a Chinese person?”
“Did you know that Brand XYZ is made in China, too?” (And when they tell you that’s why the quality has gone downhill, you can let them know that China has been manufacturing high-end luxury clothing brands for decades.)
Ask questions. Engage in critical thought and discussion. #StopAsianHate
Related Popular Read: How do you afford all those cute kids clothes? Check out these 11 mom-friendly side hustles. See how this Minnesota mom makes an extra $9,400 a year from her phone.