9/11 opened up flag market to foreign manufacturers - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

9/11 opened up flag market to foreign manufacturers

(RNN) - After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, demand for American flags skyrocketed, which changed the way the flags are made, marketed and sold in the U.S.

On the day after the attacks, Walmart sold 88,000 American Flags, compared to 6,400 on the same day a year earlier. In the following months, tens of millions of star-spangled banners flew off the shelves.

The unprecedented demand overwhelmed American manufacturers.

"It took the better part of a year to fill all the orders," said Mary Repke, vice president of marketing for Annin Flagmakers, the largest and oldest flagmaker in the world, which is headquartered in New Jersey. "We were in catch up mode the whole time."

Annin, which was started in 1847 and is a sixth-generation, family-owned business, wouldn't compromise on its policy of using only American-made components for its U.S. flags.

The thread, fabrics and the dyes are all produced in the U.S., and the flags are embroidered and stitched by American workers in the company's facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.

The surge in public displays of patriotism opened the door for foreign flag makers to sell millions of American flags in the U.S.  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, $51.7 million worth of imported American flags were sold in the U.S. in 2001 - $29.7 million of that went for flags made in China alone.

The previous year, the figure was about $750,000. Since then, demand has remained well above pre-attack levels. Americans have spent between $3 million and $5 million per year on foreign-made flags.

Of the 150 million U.S. flags sold in the states each year, about 95 percent are made here, and the imported flags are largely of acceptable quality. But the internet is full of stories of American flags with uneven stripes, the wrong number of stars, or with the stars improperly positioned.  

The Flag Manufacturers Association of America formed in 2003 with the idea of making Americans aware of where their national symbol is manufactured by appealing to their national pride.

"How would you feel if the American flag you so proudly display was made in another country?" the FMAA website asks. "Kind of defeats the purpose of being a true symbol of patriotism, doesn't it?"

The association established a "Certified made in the U.S.A." program to let buyers know where their flags are made. The program goes above and beyond the Federal Trade Commission's Textile Products Identification Act, which requires country of origin identification labels, along with other information.

The FMAA also works to educate the public about the quality of American-made goods.

But some cost-conscious patriots don't care where the flag is made – foreign flags tend to run about 30 percent cheaper, and almost all small, hand-held flags of cloth or vinyl stapled to a stick are foreign-made.

Scott Miller, a photographer from Orlando, FL, said where his flag comes from is unimportant – it's the thought that counts:

"I can see both sides of the issue," he said, "but it's the symbolism of the flag that matters, it's what it stands for that matters, it's the pride it brings out in people that matters, not where it was made."

One self-described political conservative said he'd prefer to purchase American products, but a free market is part of the American way.

"I prefer buying American-made products and am quite careful to do so," said Gary Stogner, who lives in the Atlanta suburb of Chamblee, GA. " But I understand about imports and the need for competitively priced goods.

"Many American companies moved production facilities overseas because of excessively high taxes and restrictions here," he said. "As a symbol of our freedom, we have the right to purchase (an American flag) from any manufacturer we please. But I'll opt for American made."

Repke said Annin remains true to its ideal of American-made products as the company has grown and learned from the 9/11 surge to improve its efficiency.

"We have improved our processes," she said. "We dye everything in-house. Nine-eleven taught us to have more control over our resources, and we have made significant improvements in how we produce our flags."

The various facilities in different states have different specialties, the stripes are pre-cut, the star fields are done in different facilities and it's all computerized based on the size of the flag.

"It's helped us deal with big spikes in volume," she said.

And there was just such a spike in volume earlier this year, she said, when Osama bin Laden,  the terrorist mastermind, was killed by a team of Navy Seals.

And if there's ever another one?

"We want to satisfy all our customers, but we'll tell them this is what we have in stock, and when we're out, we'll make more. And we'll keep making them domestically."

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