Back in July, ABC News decided it might be fun to have a little chat with David Lassoff, manager of California-based IncredibleGifts.
IncredibleGifts makes novelty items including unofficial “Make America Great Again” hats which, amusingly, are infinitely better looking than the “official” version, available at “shop.donaldjtrump.com”.
Compare and contrast:
As it turns out, Trump’s “greatest” tariffs are causing problems for Lassoff and other folks who sell knockoff versions of the President’s infamously hideous trucker hats.
The issue is that Lassoff’s “MAGA” hats are actually made in China. Only the stitching is “made in America.” The tariffs mean the price of those hats could increase, putting IncredibleGifts in the same “deplorable” situation as other American companies: Having to choose between lower margins or passing the costs on to consumers.
Amy Lee, manager of New Jersey-based “Hat Depot”, is in a similar predicament. Hat Depot’s version is entirely made in China, from the hat itself to the embroidery. Amy was paying $3 all-in for her product and selling them to Trump supporters stateside for $14. Now, that hefty margin is in jeopardy thanks to the tariffs.
Chris Cox, the founder of the same “Bikers for Trump” who showed up at Bedminster last month for a truly surreal event the President held at his posh golf club, also finds himself torn between the President’s jingoism and the realities of global supply chains. When the New York Times’ Alan Rappeport interviewed Cox for a fascinating piece called “Trump’s War With Harley-Davidson Has Divided America’s Bikers”, Chris explained why the $20 Trump shirts he peddled this year at the Sturgis biker rally in South Dakota were made in Haiti:
If I get a T-shirt made in the U.S.A., it’s going to cost about $8 more. I looked far and wide to try to get a shirt made in America, it’s just they get you, they gouge you.
Haiti, you’ll recall, is on Trump’s list of “sh*thole” countries.
All of that is obviously hilarious and the plight of those seeking to capitalize off cheaply-made MAGA wear amid the trade war is perhaps the quintessential example of Trump’s policies colliding with reality.
Low income Trump supporters can’t afford the overpriced “official” apparel available on his website, a situation that forces them to buy foreign-made replicas. But that act represents a tacit admission that the President’s trade policies are inherently flawed.
Needless to say, the nuance is lost on the people buying the knockoff goods.
The logical next question to ask is this: What about the “official” MAGA hats? Or, more to the point: Who makes those?
Well, the answer is Carson-based Cali-Fame headwear company. While some readers may already know this story, it’s worth highlighting again, because since the Los Angeles Times took an in-depth look at the composition of the company’s workforce in 2015, Donald Trump’s nationalist, anti-immigrant message has morphed from a laughable campaign gimmick to stated U.S. government policy. That policy is producing myriad not-so-laughable outcomes for those seeking a better life in America.
In the 2015 interview with the LA Times, Brian Kennedy, president of Cali-Fame, estimated that 80% of his workforce is Latino. None of them, he says, are in the country illegally. Here are some excerpts from the piece:
Look around the factory floor where these hats are being made by the thousands, and you’ll find faces that don’t seem to fit into Trump’s America.
Yolanda Melendrez is one of them. Melendrez, an immigrant from Mexico who was brought to the United States by her parents when she was a baby, has worked at the Carson-based Cali-Fame headwear company since 1991.
“When we first got the order [for the Trump hats], I said to myself, ‘Just wait until he sees who’s making his hats. We’re Latinos, we’re Mexicans, Salvadoreños.'”
To be clear, Melendrez would go on to express her appreciation for a job that “pays the bills” and I don’t want to extrapolate too much about what Mr. Kennedy pays his employees. That said, I think it’s safe to say that whatever he pays, it qualifies as “cheap labor” on most reasonable scales.
Do try and appreciate what all of the above means, in aggregate. Trump charges $25 for the official red MAGA hat on his website. That’s a full $9 more than popular knockoff versions. Part of that premium is down to the fact that Cali-Fame makes the entire hat in America. That, in and of itself, is stone, cold proof that Trump’s Monday morning contention about tariffs is wrong. Here’s what the President said on Twitter to start the week:
Tariffs have put the U.S. in a very strong bargaining position, with Billions of Dollars, and Jobs, flowing into our Country – and yet cost increases have thus far been almost unnoticeable.
That bit about cost increases being “unnoticeable” is about to change in the next two rounds of tariffs on China, but the disparity between the price of the “official” MAGA hat and the knockoffs proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that American consumers benefit from the globalization of supply chains.
Beyond that, the Cali-Fame story is yet another example of the multiple layers of irony embedded in Trump’s increasingly absurd narrative. MAGA hat buyers have two options:
- Buy a “fake” MAGA hat that’s made in China in order to avoid paying what amounts to a penalty for denying the benefits of globalization;
- Buy an “official” MAGA hat from Trump that, by virtue of being made in America, is nearly twice as expensive and would likely be even more expensive if it weren’t made at a factory where the workforce is almost entirely comprised of the very same Latino immigrants that Trump wants to keep out of the country
We’ll leave you with a recent Business Insider video that’s basically just a new version of similar short movies that document the day-to-day activities at Cali-Fame.