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Policy & Government

FTC warns outdoor industry on “Made in USA” claims

SNEWS looks at why many outdoor brands may soon have to give up their "Made in the USA" claims.

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“Made in the USA” has been an effective marketing tool of late within the outdoor industry, but the claim is loosely defined, and federal authorities say consumers are being fooled.

On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement with outdoor accessories maker E.K. Ekcessories to stop making “Made in the USA” and “Truly Made in the USA” claims when in fact, a substantial portion of its products contained foreign-made components.

“Under the proposed order, the company is prohibited from claiming that any product is made in the United States unless that product is all or virtually all made in the United States,” FTC officials said.

The action serves as a warning shot to the outdoor industry, where many brands have hopped on the “Made in the USA” bandwagon to appeal to consumer and retailer senses of national pride and sustainability. But the definition of “Made in the USA” has been murky at best, with brands claiming the mark because their products were put together in the United States, even though the components were largely sourced abroad.

Think of merino wool socks, where many U.S. outdoor brands market “Made in the USA.” While the socks are indeed designed, sewn and finished (essentially made) in the United States, all the merino wool typically comes from New Zealand or South America, and in some cases, the wool is treated in Asia before making its way to the United States.

Can these socks claim to be “Made in the USA?” Does the consumer know the difference between a sock made in the United States versus one entirely sourced with U.S. wool and made here? (There are few outdoor socks that are 100-percent sourced and made in the United States).

The FTC’s recent ruling likely will force many outdoor brands to lose their “Made in the USA” claims, unless they change to domestically sourced materials or amend their statements.

In two blog posts, one for consumers, one for businesses, officials laid out the rules:

>> A company that makes a “Made in the USA” or other United States origin claim for its product should be able to prove that all or almost all of that product was made in the United States. Products with these labels should contain virtually no material or components from other countries.

>> In general, products processed or finished in the USA that contain materials from other countries should not be labeled “Made in the USA” without further explanation. Look for qualifying statements near the claim that explain which components of the product come from the USA.

Brands will need to take swift action. The FTC is asking consumers and retailers to report those breaking the rules.

–David Clucas

What’s your opinion of the FTC’s ruling? What should be classified “Made in the USA.” Share in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.