Guess Where This Sixty-Five-Dollar “Sustainable Towel” Was Manufactured

nomadix

A few years ago, a lady friend of mine introduced me to Touch Of Modern. I wish she hadn’t. “ToM” stocks a variety of utterly fascinating design-y stuff that, by and large, I don’t need and would not actually use were I to purchase it. And when you do order something from them, it usually takes four to six weeks to arrive, just like you were ordering from Sears Roebuck back in 1905. Half of the time, what you get is broken or wrongly sized.

Despite these continual disappointments, I still read through their spam with devoted attention. Two days ago, ToM alerted me that they had a limited supply of sustainable, high-net-worth beach towels. I checked out the description on their site, and because the descriptions on ToM are wrong as often as they’re right, I checked out the description of the towels on the manufacturer’s site.

Then I got suspicious.

The Nomadix towel website is a masterpiece of doublespeak marketing obfuscation. Their motto, “Own less. Do more.” seems oddly unsuited for a company that primarily sells $64.99 towels, but perhaps their mission statements will clear things up.

We live for adventure, for the experience. To make the journey possible,
we need a few things to help us along the way. Nomadix aims to fulfill these
simple needs and minimize the amount of gear needed to enjoy the experience.
Our products are designed with 3 principles in mind.

PERFORMANCE

We believe in owning the process. We’re a small team that handles every aspect
of the process from design, testing to manufacturing.
Combined with feedback
from other adventurers in the field, we craft some of the best stuff you can find.
If it doesn’t perform, we don’t sell it, simple as that.

I’ve bolded one sentence because you will see a variation of it on the websites for ninety percent of the enviro-friendly, totes-recycled, hipster-friendly clothing and accessories out there. There’s always a call-out to the “small” or “focused” so-called “team”. And you’ll often hear quite a bit about the location of their corporate headquarters or their annual retreats. You’ll also hear about sustainability or sourcing for the materials…

SUSTAINABILITY
We are pushing for higher industry standards, when it comes to environmental
impact. The best way to combat wasteful manufacturing processes and the use
of harmful materials, is by supporting businesses that take the initiative to ensure
you are getting a sustainable product.

Some day, centuries from now, archaeologists will cite this paragraph as an example of complete and utter meaninglessness. Pushing how exactly? Pushing who? When? Under what circumstances? Do you have examples?

The Nomadix website is full of shit like this, but there’s one thing missing from all the flowery prose and descriptions of sandy beaches: the minor detail of from whence the towels come. So I emailed them, and received this reply, which I am copypasta-ing in its entirety:

Hi Jack,

Our towels are produced in China. A lot of people get turned off by Chinese manufacturers. But we were very careful in choosing our manufacturer. The one we’ve partnered with is leading the Chinese market in environmental standards. They are a coal free facility and they treat their employees very well. It’s very similar to an American factory.

Partnering with factories like ours is a huge step towards improving Chinese labor conditions and cleaning up the area, from an environmental perspective. We’re all on this planet together and cleaning things up over seas is just as important as cleaning things up here at home.

Thanks for asking! Let me know if I can help you with anything else.

The Nomadix Team

www.Nomadix.co
@nomadixco

Props to Nomadix for giving me an immediate and honest answer. But I already knew the answer, as soon as I saw their boast about the “small team”. Guess what? You can’t make towels with a “small team”. The manufacture of towels is a labor-and-materials-intensive operation that requires a big factory and long supply chains and dozens, if not hundreds, of hands.

When Nomadix brags about their “small team” and neglects to mention their “big factory in China” they are telling you a couple of things:

  • They’re ashamed of making towels in China. As they should be. There are plenty of places to make towels in this country and those places pay fair wages and workers comp benefits and adhere to workplace safety regulations. If the “small team” doesn’t have time to find a place that can do it, they can ask me and I’ll suggest a few.
  • Their concept of the “team” doesn’t include the factory. It’s just the Americans, doing awesome things with their small team, sipping lattes at awareness-enhancing spiritual workshops while the faceless people in China live in a Simpsons-Banksy nightmare.
  • They don’t want you to do the numbers and see just how much profit there is in a “Baja CA” towel from China.

Furthermore, when Nomadix takes the time to lecture me that “we’re all on this planet together”, what they are trying to convince me is that they believe they are doing more good by having “sustainable” towels made in China than they would by providing jobs to American workers, who are out of work in record numbers. I hear some variant of this speech again and again every time I ask unpleasant questions of an “eco-friendly” company that sources from China.

I’ve come to believe that this is an issue of identity and empathy. The gentle people of Nomadix, whether they would admit it or not, don’t care much for American proles. After all, American proles drive pickups trucks and listen to country music and believe in Nine Pound Baby Jesus. Giving those people an employment opportunity sticks in their craws because they are, fundamentally, at war with those people for the soul of the United States. It’s aid and comfort to the enemy.

Better to source from China. You visit a factory once, the faceless inscrutable Chinamen say something comforting, and then you never think about it again. You never think about the conditions under which those people are working, you never think about the fact that you are denying jobs to your neighbors who are in need, you never think about the fact that the outrageous margins on your towels represent an outright theft from the workers who should be involved in their production. You especially don’t bother to verify the claims about recycling and sustainability. That might prove embarrassing. You just drive your Range Rover to a seaside restaurant for brunch and you sketch a few towels on a napkin and then you take a few meetings.

So, in short,

fuck those towels,

and fuck the people who make them.

This morning, I went on Amazon and bought these towels instead. They don’t look very adventurous, and they don’t have any California designs on them, but it’s okay. If I need adventure in a towel, I’ll try to provide it myself.

45 Replies to “Guess Where This Sixty-Five-Dollar “Sustainable Towel” Was Manufactured”

  1. Aquineas

    You’re 6’0 or over correct? As a fellow 6+ footer, I offer you this humble advice. Eschew towels in favor of bath sheets. Bath sheet is just a fancy (and perhaps not-so-flattering) term for a really big towel. And yes, preferably find some made in the US. Once you’ve gone bath sheet, you’ll never go back.

  2. Will Litten

    Hey I want to start a sustainable, eco friendly manufacturing business right here in the US. Pay my workers well, treat them right. Of course I want to make semi automatic rifles that aren’t AR-15s. I suspect that I’m not going to be getting many dinner or conference invitations from the other sustainable, eco friendly manufacturing businesses.

  3. -Nate-Nate

    Thank you Jack .

    This is a really important thing you have brought into the light ~ I wonder how many of the hoi-palloi will get it .

    -Nate

  4. Harry

    Love it, but I have to disagree with your assertion that the gentle folk at Nomadix are in any way at war with the american proles you describe. It is more likely that simply don’t acknowledge their existence, much in the same way the persons who actually manufacture their product don’t exist except as an abstraction in their accounting.

    Neither their factory workers no american proles are potential customers, nor do they travel in the same social circles, drink they same kombucha or whatever. They are not at war, they are simply out of phase. Those who intersect with both worlds are becoming an even smaller minority on account of the modern worlds ability to allow us to seek out information in a way the confirms our own belief structure concerning almost any subject, and make that opinion seem widely held enough to be credible.

    IIRC correctly these are all subjects you have posted on in the past, and I think that as a conclusion they resonate more than the culture war theory.

    • JackJack Post author

      Maybe “war” is the wrong word, but what else would you call a decision to take food out of the mouths of your neighbors, even if it’s through negligence?

      • Nick D

        Exactly. Either sell the towel at less than the 10,000% markup without the feel-good BS, or make it here or somewhere else that actually provides sustainability to real people rather than their investors’ ROI thresholds. They can’t have it both ways.

        Despite my inner cheap-assed-ness, I’ve tried to buy jeans made with Cone Mills denim and shirts and shoes made here.

        My company employs thousands of people who make heavily regulated products in a small town – they’re the people I autocross with, wrench on terrible LeMons cars with, and send my kids to school with. We’ve (fortunately) found outsourcing high-end manufacturing typically ends in disaster and is a black hole of cost and time.

        I’m a dyed-in-the wool capitalist (but a social liberal) and this “Designed in California” crap makes me yak. The disconnect between Middle America and the coasts is real and ever-deepening. A good friend goes to an elite school on a coast – the stories he has about attitudes and perceptions defy imagination. Most have zero concern about anything other than the latest veblen good. If the iWatch was made with the bones of war orphans they would buy two dozen as long as it was expensive as hell.

        It’s the same line of thinking that led to the bulk of Indiana’s RFRA outrage – Pence made a idiotic and wholly avoidable political miscalculation championed by a unrepresentative group to pass a duplicitous law restating rights conferred by the State and Federal constitution. He deserved scorn for being obtuse and out-of-touch with both constituents and the state’s broader economic interests. RFRA’s text, however, wasn’t the evil its opponents howled at the moon over.

        • jz78817

          Yeah, this is where I align with Jack. I can more or less understand it if we were talking about dime-a-dozen commodity goods; you pretty much have to have it manufactured in a low-cost region (China) because everyone else is too. But if you’re going to charge that much for a towel, it’s incredibly tone deaf to still have it made in China. they’re of course absolutely free to do so, just as we’re free to criticize them.

          it’s like those web ads for “premium” underwear (e.g. Mack Weldon.) I looked at their site and after I cut through the marketing dreck magnifying their tremendous fabric and quality of manufacture of a $20 pair of briefs, they had them made in Thailand and Peru. Of course, they disclose that after making sure you know that they’re designed in Kalifornia and they have a warehouse in Taxachusetts.

          • Nick D

            To be repetitive, “exactly”. I get my, errr, male intimates from Costco because their employees are paid a real wage and really care about their jobs. The low-end commoditized good business is a race to the bottom – while commodities are not a business high-wage countries should be in, it does not follow that those goods need to be sold through a Wal-Mart model.

            Costco is far more profitable, pleasant, and lean than a Sams Club or Wal-Mart because employees simply reciprocate the respect shown them by the corporation.

            And I’m a completely brainwashed Mitch Daniels acolyte. I was severely depressed when he disabused the chattering classes he wouldn’t run for President.

    • Gert Frobe's Body Double

      No, I think there is a form of warfare going on. A cultural war to perfect the middle americans by operant conditioning. If you say the right thing (or sell cakes to the right couple), you might get rewarded, but if you say the wrong thing (or donate to the wrong political campaign), they will find out and they will punish you. Not legally (here, yet), but certainly the news media will try to shame you into submission. Pour encourager les autres. It’s all very soviet.

      Do you think they care if their Chinese contractors (who they grant wages and profits to) are against “marriage equality”? Or if they have bad opinions of black people? Of course they don’t care. They know the Chinese have no use for their strange cultural bugaboos and wouldn’t even know how to react if they were prodded. They perhaps don’t even ascribe moral agency to the Chinese.

      • Harry

        The case can be made that they also do no ascribe full moral agency to middle american proles, as when you hear them describe their social programs to “benefit” them, and the indignation they express when those programs are rejected by the people they see themselves as helping, it is a small leap to also think they are not fully capable of making decisions for themselves.

        It would not surprise me if they thought that middle american proles were only 3/5ths of a moral being, incapable of self governing. Worthy of pity, charity, and their self serving efforts to improve their lot, but not capable of seeing the vision they see of the future. Also, best not get to close to them or their culture may rub off on you.

        Also this group of people needs a better “they” then “bourgeois elite.” which no one has used yet but is stuck in my head.

        • JackJack Post author

          Agreed with both of you on pretty much all counts.

          There is something in the human blueprint that makes it gratifying to despise other groups of people. The only people it’s still safe to despise are white middle Americans.

          • Nick D

            I also have an unreasonable attraction to hyphenated sentences while drinking. Criticize at will.

        • Nick D

          I’m middle America born and bred. I thoroughly despise Muslim extremists, and that’s OK around these parts, even though my wife – and 95% of the people that attend my chosen place of worship – are Arab.

          My close – and son of an Indiana State Trooper – friend excelled at an Ivy-League B-School by 1) being practical and 2) recognizing that one must deliver tangible economic value to earn wealth. Not earth-shattering concepts to morlocks. Even Google’s Chief People Officer prefers state school bad-asses over Ivys.

          http://www.economist.com/news/business-books-quarterly/21648623-how-get-best-out-people-who-work-you-your-toes

  5. Ronnie Schreiber

    I buy towels for my embroidery business. I haven’t seen anything Chinese. The Indians make decent stuff, Pakistan maybe a notch below India, but the best imported towels I’ve seen are from Vietnam.

    1888 Mills makes some of their towels in the U.S.

  6. jz78817

    Dude, “Chinaman” is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.

    • Aquineas

      Doesn’t that imply that they’re American? In this case, the person he’s referring to is probably Han Chinese. Not that I’m endorsing “Chinaman” as the term of choice…

  7. Duguesclin

    I often wonder whether outfits like Nomadix really belive what they say or if they are just taking advantage of insecure people who wouldn’t be seen using a non-sustainable towel (!?) or heard saying things that don’t mesh with the fad du jour.

    They would not be the first to capitalize on people’s insecurities.

    Ford may soon be capitalizing on my strong sense of nostalgia: My first car was a Mustang and I really like the new one. I can’t decide whether I should get the GT or pass.

    • carrya1911

      “Sustainable” is certainly a fashion statement for most who buy that sort of thing…at least in my experience. It’s a luxury product, but the luxury being sold is moral superiority. I’m not buying a $64.00 towel because I have more money than you, I’m buying a $64.00 towel because I’m literally *better* than you.

  8. Athos

    That price is outrageous. If not downright theft.

    I’ve learned something since I got down here, whenever you don’t see where the product is made (I’ve seen a few cases), suspect Made in China. The more obfuscated the origin in the label is, the higher the chance.

    And you can buy locally made commodity goods. They’re more expensive, sure, but the quality is there. For some years now, I’ve bought locally made dry line pegs. Compared with the Chinese stuff, they’re 2-3X more expensive. But they don’t go brittle after a year (the UV here kills plastics) and the spring doesn’t go soft. I don’t have to buy as frequent. Now they are even available from other parts of the Commonwealth: NZ & UK.

  9. dkleinh

    I’ve come to the belief that in the US there’s no respect or appreciation for workers. What I always seem to be hearing is admiration and political retoric only for entreprenures and (small) business. This seems like just another “carefully craft the brand to target the trendy hipsters” outfits…

  10. WiredChuck

    Not that this has anything to do with towels, but one reason I chose old-school stereo equipment for my car is because it was made in the USA. Car audio gear is all made in China these days. Back in the 80s and 90s, the very best gear was American (pretty much any amplifier or speakers worth a shit) or Japanese (Alpine, Nakamichi, Sony, a/d/s amps).

    To the degree possible, I avoid buying anything made in China. It’s tricky with consumer electronics, but at least my home stereo is British and American.

    Anyone know of a TV that isn’t made in China?

      • Michael

        I always thought it was tragic how the birth of digital television was the death knell for domestic television manufacturing.

  11. Tomko

    For towels look to Christy from Great Britain.

    For men’s undergarments look to Shan from Quebec.

    Been faithfull using both for over a decade.

    As well, and very importantly, always follow the care instructions scrupulously when laundering your towels or undergarments. Not doing so, even once, can change the texture and feel of the fabric.

  12. RDC

    This post reminds me of an excellent quote I saw recently (will have to track down the source):

    “…like its close cousins “local,” “artisanal,” and the neologisms “hacker” and “maker,” DIY is a practice of middle-class consumption masquerading as a practice of citizenship.”

    • Dan S

      I fail to see how being more self reliant and making things oneself is a sort of consumerism similar to all of the crap branded as “local” and “artisanal”. That really doesn’t make sense or rather…

      DIY… I don’t think that word means what you think it means

      I’ll grant that i find the maker term to be bullshit, hacker less so.

      • RDC

        The context of the article was referring to a specific subset and use of the term DIY, Think apartment therapy style blogs or whatever, rather than making your own furniture.

  13. SCE to AUX

    Being a leading environmental company in China doesn’t say much, and the ‘coal-free’ claim is laughable.

    They could have priced their towels the same and still made a healthy margin with US manufacture.

    They could have posted an image of a US flag with a scrolling “MADE IN USA” banner.

    They could be produced in a New England textile mill powered by a water wheel: https://www.osv.org/types-of-mills, and people would line up for such an overpriced product.

    But they chose not to do these things, which ironically makes them like nearly every other company, and magnifies the vapidity of their rhetoric.

  14. Matt

    Jack:

    As an advocate for American manufacturing and a watch enthusiast, I’m curious what you think of these new watches coming out of Shinola in Detroit. Perhaps you could do a quick write up to guide those of us who don’t know as much about watches, but still like to look classy as fuck?

    For example: http://www.filson.com/watch-collections/

    Matt

    • JackJack Post author

      Matt,

      It’s my understanding that these are Swiss movements and Chinese parts, with final assembly and finish in Detroit. That’s an important step on the ladder to manufacturing locally, so I’m still interested in supporting them. More details here:

      http://www.gentlemansgazette.com/shinola-watches-detroit/

      Now the bikes, on the other hand… I have a personal connection to the bikes, which I’ll detail in an upcoming blog entry.

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