Padding the Numbers

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The U.S. government recently placed a new quota on imports of cheap hand-sewn brassieres from China. As a result, Chinese brassiere makers are trying to develop more expensive brassieres, since those are given preferential treatment under U.S. law. In Bagualing, China, there is a bra lab devoted to developing new techniques. Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University has started issuing degrees in bra studies. As seamless molded bras that can be smoothly worn under T-shirts have soared in popularity, Chinese bra makers have begun experimenting with new designs. They have developed new techniques for creating a shape-retaining bra cup, and also for fusing together the many components needed to make a seamless bra by using high temperatures to mold sheets of synthetic fibers into wafer-thin shells. And they have even experimented with ways to help make American women more seductive: by providing more cleavage; or by adding sealed packets filled with air (which proved too prone to leaks and punctures), oil pads (too expensive and heavy), or a filling, as yet untested, made from a kind of fiberfill such as is used to line winter parkas.

All this in the attempt to satisfy American women and offer them bras that they will like better than those now available in the United States. In doing this, makers of brassieres are doing no more than producers have done for centuries in the attempt to provide domestic consumers with cheaper, better, or cheaper and better, products than could be made at home. In Adam Smith’s time, British manufacturers of woolens outsourced the production of wool to Australia and British shipbuilders outsourced the construction of masts to could no longer compete, shoe production was outsourced to factories in cities, across the seas, or in Brazil or China. The production of many items – oil, rubber, coffee, bananas, textiles, shoes, cameras, furniture, brassieres, automobiles, computers, steel – is now outsourced. Outsourcing is constantly shifting with demand and with fluctuations in domestic production costs as compared to production costs overseas. U.s. government taxes, regulations, restrictions, and tariffs have played a major role in increasing U.S. production costs, which leads to increased outsourcing – to the point that even the research and production of high-quality bras has been outsourced too.

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