We’ve all seen brands that make the claim “Designed in Canada” or “Designed in USA”, but what does that really mean? Simply, it means that a company has an office in Canada or the USA where they design products from. That’s it. Similarly to greenwashing, fashion companies use these words as a way of distracting consumers from their often un-sustainable manufacturing processes and instead focus on the narrow Canadian or American connections they have. On the other hand, “Made in Canada” and “Product of Canada” both are claims that are regulated by the Canadian Competition Bureau while the “Made in USA” or “Made in America” claims are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Let's explore what exactly these claims mean.
In order to make a “Made in Canada” claim, the Canadian Competition Bureau regulates that the last substantial transformation of the goods must have occurred in Canada, and at least 51% of the total direct costs of production or manufacturing the goods have been incurred in Canada. For a “Product of Canada” claim, the last substantial transformation of the good occurred in Canada; and all or virtually all (at least 98%) of the total direct costs of production or manufacturing the good have been incurred in Canada. There’s also a statement of “Made in Canada from Imported Parts/Material” which simply denotes that the product was assembled in Canada but the majority of cost of the materials are imported.
PHOTO FROM GREENAMERICA.ORG
In order to make a “Made in USA” claim, marketers or manufacturers must comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Made in USA policy. While a company does not require approval from the FTC before making a Made in USA claim, a manufacturer or marketer can make any claim as long as it is truthful and substantiated. For a product to comply with the Made in USA claim, the product must be “all or virtually all” made in the U.S., meaning that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. The product’s final assembly or processing must also take place in the U.S.
When we come across goods that have “Made in Canada” and “Made in USA” claims, what this tells us is that the goods were at least partly locally produced – in other words, they were (partly) manufactured or crafted in the country that their business is based in. Producing locally allows for brands to cut out carbon emissions that would be otherwise produced during transportation of internationally-produced goods and also enables brands to be more flexible thanks to shorter lead times, allowing them to be more responsible to consumer demand and thus reducing the amount of waste produced by the brand. Furthermore, local production tends to greatly benefit local communities by adding diversity to their economic ecosystems and supporting a myriad of people within those communities.
But just because a brand claims that they are “Made in Canada” or “Made in USA” doesn’t mean that we as consumers shouldn’t do more research into the brand’s practices. Some brands that have made these claims manufacture cheaply overseas and then import the product for small finishes and, most importantly, to sew on the “Made In” label. Just like “Made in China” goods aren’t necessarily unethically and cheaply made (overseas countries are also home to many artisanal brands that produce ethical goods), “Made in Canada” or “Made in USA” goods aren’t necessarily always ethically made or high quality. While Canadian and American production factories are held to much stricter labour laws and regulations than other overseas countries, sweatshops exist in both Canada and the USA and disproportionately affect “low-skilled” migrant workers, although even secure workers can end up in sweatshop conditions (FYI, the US Department of Labor defines a sweatshop as any factory that violates two or more labor laws, such as those pertaining to benefits and wages, child labor and working hours). Furthermore, even more expensive garments do not necessarily guarantee better working conditions for their producers. In 2012, designer brand Alexander Wang was sued by a man who worked in sweatshop-like conditions in Wang’s NYC design firm. While much of America and Canada’s cheapest garment production has moved overseas, as late as 2000, there were still 255,000 sweatshop workers in the United States. In both the U.S. and Canada, sweatshops can still be found in New York City, California, Texas, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.
While it’s important to understand the claims made by brands we choose to buy from, it’s equally as important to put in the work to research these brands and their ethical practices beyond their claims of “Made in Canada” or “Made in USA.” After taking this deeper dive into how these claims can be abused, it turns out that “Made In” does not matter nearly as much as “Made by”. Unfortunately however, there is no such label that tells us how much the garment worker was paid, what chemicals were used to dye the fabric, or what the garment worker's working conditions looked like. For now, however, we recommend asking questions and demanding increased transparency from fashion brands. But if a brand doesn't want to answer your questions, it's because you won't like the answer.