One on one: “A year without made in China”

Interview by Noah Graff

Today’s Machining World Archives December 2007 Volume 03 Issue 12

Author Sara Bongiorni attempted to go a year without buying anything made in China.

Author Sara Bongiorni attempted to go a year without buying anything made in China.

Sara Bongiorni and her family attempted to boycott Chinese products for one year. She documented this experience in her book, A Year Without “Made in China.”

NG: What gave you the idea to boycott Chinese goods?
It was about two days after Christmas at the end of 2004, and the toys and gifts from the holiday were all over the floor. I started picking them up and noticed that most of the stuff was made in China, then realized, as I looked around the room, that that was the case with so many of the other items in our house. I turned to my husband and said, “Hey, do you think that it would be possible for a family like ours to actually go a whole year without buying anything made in China?”

NG: Did you do this for idealistic purposes, or was it more of an academic experiment?
It was just a practical experiment to see if it was even possible. I didn’t do it for factory workers in China or American workers who have lost their jobs. I was in a way setting aside politics and a lot of the concerns that a lot of people have, myself included.

NG: What was the most difficult item to find?
Electronics and toys were really difficult – any kind of small electric or household gadget. If you start looking at what’s in your house, it’s amazing if you see anything that has a phrase other than “Made in China” on it.

NG: Was there a time you thought a Chinese item was actually superior to that of an American one?
: I don’t remember thinking anything was superior. But if you go to a typical store and you’re looking for luggage or a cell phone, you will only find options from China. It’s interesting because sometimes the trade statistics will say that there are other options out there, but I spent a ton of time looking for things and I don’t know where they are.

NG: Did you spend more money that year than you normally do?
I think in the end it was probably a wash. But that was because there were so many things we just couldn’t buy because we couldn’t find them. For instance, if we had dropped a cell phone and needed a new one, we would not have been able to buy one. We definitely spent more for things that would not have been in our budget otherwise. My son’s sneakers were too small and after calling stores across the country [and not finding anything], I had to order shoes made in Italy from a catalog. With the shipping I think they were $68.

NG: Your husband worked in France for the summer in 2005. Was it easier for him to find goods there that weren’t made in China?
There are a ton of things from China there, but you don’t necessarily know what’s made in China because they don’t require labeling the same way we do. It’s interesting because their [items] have very detailed information that says, “Complies with European Regulation Number…” But information on where they are actually made is [often] not provided for a lot of items.

NG: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from this experience?
I think the overall lesson I took away from this was that even if you have a lot of concerns about trade policies and politics and human rights treatment in China, and of course lost jobs here at home, we’re so far down the road that it’s really impossible to back up. I’m not saying that there can’t be corrective actions, but at this point we’re interconnected with the rest of the world, specifically with China, and it goes down deep to the level of the individual consumer.

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