76: Made in (insert country name here)

Lambswool coats in Biel/Bienne's secondhand shop, made of lambs wool from Africa, but stitched together right here in our little town.

On the second floor of a nearby secondhand shop is a combination book and clothing section. It smells like all secondhand clothing shops do – reeking of the musty battle between laundry soap and human perspiration.

The first time we visited this shop, a traditional Swiss woman’s costume hung against the wall. It is gone now. I halfway wish I had bought it, but what life would it have had? It would be boxed in Canada, taken out by my kids after my demise and sent to – where else, but another secondhand shop. I spared it that indignity.

This is the walk we take to the second-hand shop in our town's charming medieval quarter.

I still like to rummage through secondhand shops. They are pocket-museums of retail, showing the gradual shift of industry from one nation to another as evidenced by the “Made in Biel/Bienne” tags on a rack of  heavy lambs-wool coats in this particular shop. Twenty years from now, the place might be filled with Made in China garments, but that is not as sure a thing as it seems in North America.

Switzerland has an industrious bent, and a more bred-in sense of loyalty to local producers. This mindset is on display in stores everywhere. If there are Spanish strawberries on the shelf, there are also Swiss. Chinese-feather-packed pillows lay next to Swiss-down pillows and you can count on the Swiss retail clerks to enthusiastically explain why only an idiot would buy Chinese when a superior Swiss brand is within reach.

Made right here in our town.

Granted that my cultural moorings are loosened so that my interpretations might be all off, but the Swiss don’t do this with the same politicized notes that one hears in North America. They buy Swiss because they genuinely believe no one can do or make anything better than the Swiss.

It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time that Made in Winnipeg tags were abundant. Winnipeg is the Canadian prairie town where we were born and raised, and it had a thriving industrial sector at one time. We find evidence of this occasionally. At our cottage, we decided to dispose of an old sand-filled sofa by cutting it to pieces and burning it. When we peeled back the upholstery and pried apart the frame, I was somewhat dismayed to see it had Winnipeg stamps on its solid wood boards. We were too committed to our decluttering craze to put the thing back together. I’m a little sorry about that.

 

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