Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Even the Cowboy Boot Now Sports 'Made in China'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Even the Cowboy Boot Now Sports 'Made in China'

Article excerpt

Showing off the bootmaking plant founded by his famous grandfather after a stint in the US Cavalry, Rudolph Lama can't help sounding a little patriotic.

"There are three things this country can still be proud of," he says with a glint in his eye, "Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Wrangler jeans, and Tony Lama cowboy boots."

It would be hard to find a product more emblematic of America than cowboy boots and Tony Lamas are considered top of the line. But reach inside and the label may read: "Made in China."

Chinese-made cowboy boots?

Sure enough. Some 35 to 40 percent of the Tony Lama line is outsourced, according to Mr. Lama, who now manages international sales for Justin Brands, which acquired Tony Lama Co. in 1990. Half of Justin's Chippewa Boots footwear is produced in China, while 20 percent of the company's upscale Nocona brand comes from Mexico, Lama says. Between 75 and 80 percent of the Justin Boots brand are crafted overseas.

It's not just Justin or big-time manufacturers. Around Cotton Street here in El Paso, about 100 small custom bootmakers continue to operate and they, too, are beginning to outsource production to foreign countries. Ariat, a high-end maker of riding boots in Union City, Calif., has all its boots made in China.

In all, the value of US production of men's western-style boots fell 40 percent between 1997 and 2002, according to the US Census Bureau.

"We are operating in a global economy.... And the prevailing trend right now is to outsource," explains Lama. "All children's boots now come from India," he shouts through the hum of sewing machines.

Such admissions are touchy subjects for boot manufacturers. Since the interview with Lama, a spokeswoman for Justin Brands e-mailed that Lama "feels several of his comments were taken out of context and they serve to paint a negative picture of the brand" while the company itself was "proud to still produce a large number of products domestically." No new outsourcing numbers were offered, however. And in a second e-mail, the spokeswoman said that "if the people you spoke with gave you these numbers, then you are right. …

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