By William MacKenzie,
Love Oregon and want to celebrate it this holiday season with a gift made here? Go to a “Made in Oregon” store, right?
“We are proud to offer the highest quality products made by Oregon vendors since 1975,” the retailer proudly proclaims.
On its website, the company points proudly to how it opened its first store at Portland International Airport in 1975 and has since “…built a reputation as a purveyor of high-quality, local products made, designed, or grown in Oregon.”
But “made, designed, or grown in Oregon” leaves a lot of wiggle room and the company takes advantage, allowing companies with limited Oregon connections to sell their products at the Made in Oregon stores. It’s the word “designed” in Oregon that opens the door wide enough to drive a truck through, enabling “localwashing” to prosper.
Puffin Drinkwear, for example, sells quirky insulated beverage covers in the form of jackets , vests, parkas, sweaters and even mini-sleeping bags designed to keep 12 ounce cans and bottles cold or hot.
The Lumberjack from Puffin Drinkwear
The Bend-based company highlights its Bend, OR roots and has gotten a lot of media attention. The Colorado Sun, a widely read digital news outlet in Colorado, recently highlighted the company’s products because of its Bend ties. Uncommon Goods pitches Puffin products as “CREATED IN OREGON BY Tyrone Haze, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.”
But claiming they are “Made in Oregon” is a stretch.
The FAQS section of its website says, “We work with a variety of manufacturers across the globe. We’ve thoroughly vetted each one to be ethical and good brand partners.”
I checked out the tags on Puffin Drinkwear products at the Washington Square mall’s Made in Oregon store and found they were “Designed in Bend” but “Made in” lots of other places, including China, Cambodia and Vietnam. None of the products on the shelves said they were “Made in America” or “Made in Oregon”.
A close look at multiple other products in the Made in Oregon store revealed the same deceit.
Take the Sasquatch-like plush bigfoot product made by Wishpets LLC of Beaverton, a “Leading designer and manufacturer of plush toys.” The company did not respond to an inquiry regarding where its products are designed, but the bigfoot tag said “Product of China”.
Plush bear from Wishpets
Other products on display that were clearly manufactured in other countries included a “Welcome to Oregon” bear also “Made in China”
and dozens of Hydro Flask bottles which, like Puffin Drinkwear, highlight that they are “Designed in Bend, Oregon”. The company’s website reinforces the message: “Our HQ is literally nestled into a Pacific Northwest wonderland– Bend, Oregon. We’re ridiculously lucky to have always been surrounded by mountains, rivers and lakes. It’s in our DNA.”
The website neglects to mention that Hydro Flask products are manufactured in China.
Then there were the organic cotton socks on display from “Replant Pairs”.
The socks are a product of Tabbisocks, which doesn’t even bother to say the socks are designed in Oregon. “Tabbisocks weaves Japanese craftsmanship from the East with big personality from the West,” it says. “Each sock is made with love in Nara ((Japan), a city steeped in tradition and advanced sock culture.”
Displayed on the apparel racks were Oregon-focused t-shirts by Graphletics. The company’s website says it was founded by Rick Gilbert in his garage in NW Portland in 2013 and has grown into a brand that’s sold across the U.S. and internationally. Its flagship retail location in SE Portland was even recently written up in the New York Times as one of five places to visit as “Sellwood-Moreland has become easier to reach, the working-class enclave has drawn creative entrepreneurs and a young, hip crowd.”
Sure, the store has an Oregon vibe, but its t-shirt at Made in Oregon was “Made in Nicaragua”.
Come on Made in Oregon. You can do better.