This is an American story.
This story is purposely timed to the heaviest retail shopping period of the year.
It’s the story of an old towel and a new economy. But most of all, it’s a story about consumers.
Once upon a time, the late 1930s, to be precise, the in-laws of Coeur d’Alene science teacher Ray Tekverk bought some towels. They were Fieldcrest towels, 100 percent cotton, milled in North Carolina. After rigorous use, the four towels made their way to Ray and his wife, Jan.
Fast forward 80 years. The Tekverks are still using those towels. Granted, they’re heavily worn and now tend to serve as Ray’s gym towels, but the label is still attached and clearly legible, and most importantly, the towels still are effective in removing moisture from a human body.
Ray estimates these towels have gone through at least 10,000 washings. Think about that a minute. How many washings do you think the towels in your linen closet could endure?
“Cotton didn’t change,” he said. “Milling didn’t change.”
You know what changed.
“Back then, they made things to last,” Ray said. “Now people make things to fall apart.”
We could blame all those manufacturers who build TVs and computers and smartphones to become outdated almost as soon as they’re off the shelves. Quality clothing and furniture can be had, but you’ll have to swim long and hard through gimcrack-infested waters to get there.
Tekverk noted that years ago, the Chinese offered classes encouraging the production of products headed quickly for obsolescence. The goal was to invigorate the economy by forcing consumers to replace allegedly durable goods frequently. More sales. More jobs. More profit.
More waste. More overburdened landfills. More strangled oceans.
And far, far, far, far, far less quality.
If you truly want to make America great again — emphasis on make — you can insist upon a return to the days when Fieldcrest sold towels that last (they still do; go to Macy’s), when the makers of vacuum cleaners and washing machines and television sets and watches took pride in creating products that required little maintenance, let alone rapid replacement.
But to make that dream come true, we consumers have to change at our core. To make America great again, we’re going to have to surround ourselves with less crap so we can afford fewer but better goods — things that will last. Otherwise, cheap products aren’t the only things headed to obsolescence.