Monday, August 30, 2010

As She Sews, So Shall She Wear ... "As ye sow, So ye shall reap"

Silk Blouses That Duang Has Made

Lined Lace Skirt That Duang Created

Today was another unsettled day here in Isaan - periods of sun and periods of rain - definitely not conducive to outdoor photography.  We have been having these types of days for about two months.  It is definitely the rainy season.

Fortunately Duang and I mange to keep busy with indoor activities during these rainy days.  I am always busy with editing, and  cataloging photographs as well as writing these blogs.  Duang is busy next to me, sewing clothes.  Many years ago she was instructed to be a seamstress by a representative of the Royal government. To assist the poor women of Thailand the King had instituted a program to teach peasant women different skills to help them earn a living other than working in the fields.  Thailand is a republic but the Royal Family has a great deal of influence and is involved in many programs to assist and benefit the common people.

I have read on the Internet and seen on cable television that many children back in the USA have started a new school year.  Duang's almost daily sewing efforts and these news items reminded me of the old days when I was a boy in elementary school.  It was in a time before "designer label clothing".  If there were to be some one's name emblazoned on our clothing, it would be our own and would be viewed as a poor reflection upon our ability to know which clothes were are own. There were no fashionable athletic shoes either - the closest that we came to fancy footwear were canvas high top sneakers.  My clothes - corduroy pants and long sleeve cotton shirts were ordered from Sears catalogue.  My sister went to school wearing new cotton dresses that my mother sewed during the months of July and August.  In July we would go and look at catalogues of the latest style of women and girl's clothing.  Together my mother and sister would agree upon a style.  Each style referred to a catalog number for a precut pattern.  Based upon my sister's measurements, my mother pulled the correct pattern from a large file cabinet in the store.  They next selected the cloth and accessories such as buttons and zippers.  It was a sure sign that summer was coming to an end when we made our yearly pilgrimage to the fabric store.

Last October, Duang asked for a sewing machine for her birthday.  I knew that she had worked for two years at a garment factory in Brunei sewing clothes but I had no idea at how skillful she actually was.  I have written about her sewing efforts before, but I remain impressed. 

Duang Modeling One of Her Outfits

Duang Modeling Her Skirt and Blouse

Duang In Blue

Buoyed by her sewing results of the past year, Duang has ventured into some more challenging projects.  She has successfully made lined tailored silk blouses, trousers, semi formal blouse and skirt outfits, and started to do some work for people outside of the family.  Recently she purchased some books that are just a collection of photos of people wearing different styles of clothing.  These are the same types of books that you can find at tailor shops in the larger cities.  Duang just as the other tailors and seamstresses can produce a garment based upon a client's measurements and referring to a selected photograph.

Drafting A Paper Pattern
I have yet to see a commercial pattern for clothing here in Isaan or in the other parts of Thailand that we have visited.  After selecting the style and fabric that she wants to use, Duang drafts a pattern on paper using exact measurements of her model.  After drafting the pattern on the paper using steel rulers and steel curves along with a pencil, she cuts the shapes out of the paper.  The various properly sized sections for the garment are then pinned to the fabric.

Pinning the Paper Pattern to the Fabric
After the various pieces of the pattern have been pinned and checked, the cloth is cut in accordance to the edges of the paper pattern.  Duang's activity then relocates from our tile floor to her sewing machines.

Preparing to Sew A New Pair of Slacks
Silk Skirt With Typical Lao Loum Pattern
Here in Isaan as well as in neighboring Lao People's Democratic Republic fabric to make clothing is quite affordable to purchase.  As an added bonus, in my opinion, is the unique cultural aspects of the fabrics and their patterns. Patterns and color schemes are unlike those that are readily available back in the USA and Europe.  On our many trips out into the countryside here in Isaan as well as our journeys to Laos we have come upon many villagers producing their own unique textiles from cotton as well as silk.  In addition to buying the fabrics directly from the weavers, you can also visit some nearby factories and purchase a wide variety of cotton as well as silk fabrics for a very good price.

On a couple occasions, I have given Duang $30 USD for her sewing needs.  She has returned with fabrics to sew three different outfits, six zippers color coordinated with the fabrics and two spools of thread.  This was all from shopping in downtown Udonthani in the "garment district".  Shopping out of town with the village handcrafters, shopping in Laos, or at the distributor's outlets would be even more economical.

All these facts got me to thinking.  It got me to thinking about starting a small business in the USA when Duang gets her Immigration Visa.  I assumed that it would not be too difficult to set up a home business where she could make custom outfits pretty much like the ones that she has been sewing here in Isaan for herself.  I know that there will have to be a city business licence, insurance, tax number, federal tax ID, state tax ID, and other bureaucratic requirements that would require research. I felt that we could export fabrics purchased both here in Isaan and in Laos and import them into the USA.  At first I anticipated shipments valued at around $2,000 USD each.  This would be a minor investment but sufficient to provide a variety of choices for potential clients back in the USA.  Duang and I would source and purchase goods on our return trips to Southeast Asia.  I figured that we could use the services of federal Express or DHL to transport the goods from Asia to the USA.  The more that I thought about it the more excited that I became about it.  I discussed it with Duang and she became excited at the possibilities too.  I then set about doing Internet research as to the particulars of importing textiles into the USA.

In a recent blog I admitted to being an optimist as well as an idealist.  I remain that way even to this day despite the experience that I am about to share regarding importing textile to the USA- what I had assumed to be a fairly simple task especially looking at a value of of $2,000 USD and around 50 pounds a shipment with perhaps two shipments a year.  I expected that there would be forms to fill out identifying the exporter, the receiver in the USA, a description of the goods being shipped, and a declared value.  Based upon the type of goods i.e. cotton cloth, silk cloth, ... I expected that an import duty would be imposed based upon value, quantity, or weight of the goods with the import duty calculated ranging from 3% to 12% of the shipment value.  I anticipated that it would be fairly straight forward as well as simple.  As one of my former bosses always questioned me .. "Is the juice worth the squeeze?"  For 50 pounds of cloth and $2,000 value, I assumed that the USA desire to gain revenue by levying import fees would be a simple process - in other words, the juice would not require much squeeze.

One of my friends recently wrote the comment ... "Is anything in life as simple or as easy as we assume or expect that it should be?"

I responded "I know. I know. But I am an optimist and worse yet - an idealist."

Most people see things the way that they are and don't ask "Why?" I dream of things the way that they should be and ask "What the @#$% - Why not?" I make no apologies to Robert F. Kennedy or more correctly to George Bernard Shaw for hijacking the sense of his saying and "making it my own".

Well I got a good start over the Internet.  I learned about brokers and the services that they provide.  I learned that some brokers charge around $450 for a shipment similar to what I contemplated that we would be making.

I came upon a US Government pdf file that had been identified as being very helpful for learning how to import goods into the USA.  I believed that I was well on my way to understanding and more importantly learning how to handle the process myself.  After all I was getting the information directly from the horse's mouth - well it might have been the horse but I wasn't getting it from the mouth!
The document was entitled "Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (2010) (Rev 1)"  I waded through it and determined that I needed to reference Chapter 52 "Cotton 1/".  Well it turned out that the Chapter dealing with cotton fabric is 58 pages long.  Much of the chapter deals with defining or trying to define what cotton fabric is.  There are designations based upon the number of yarns used to weave the fabric, there are designations related to the weight of the fabric, definitions and distinctions made based upon the length of fibers, and whether they are combed or not as well as how they are spun.  There are distinctions for poplins, cheesecloth, denim, oxford, printcloth, voiles, batistes, lawns, sateens, and so on with many different tariffs based upon the various permutations and combinations of the distinctions.  To make it all more complicated and confusing is that certain countries of origin are exempt from tariffs while others have a quota on some of the various fabrics that can imported into the USA.  There was some good news, I think,  related to cotton fabrics.  Cotton fabric from hand looms are exempt or have a lower tariff imposed upon them.  The bad news - the hand looms have to be certified by the government of their country of origin.  For Duang and I, this would mean that the cottages where we intend to purchase their home spun fabric would have to have been visited, inspected, and certified by either the Thai or Lao government as appropriate for the cottage's location.  Having visited many of these locations, I am convinced that this has not happened or will it happen.  Although the home handicrafters were not located in the "land of the free", the governments leave them alone - alone to make a living unencumbered and free from interference.

Somewhat taken aback by the complexities of importing cotton textiles, I focused on silk fabrics.  Chapter 50 of the Harmonized Tariff addresses Silk.  Chapter 50 is 3 pages long, and I suppose by mere length is not as complicated or convoluted as the Chapter 52 for cotton.  However there is a complexity in that there are distinctions as well as definitions that are to be used to come up with a 10 digit code for the item that you intend to import.  In addition to generating revenue from import duties, the Harmonized Tariff is utilized to generate statistical data related to the goods imported to the USA.  In general there is no or small tariff for importing silk to the USA obviously recognizing that there is no native US silk industry.  However all the definitions and distinctions for little if for no tariff is definitely a lot of squeeze for very little juice.

To import fabric into the USA, you have to identify the country of origin for the fabric, define the 10 digit designator for the fabric, identify the composition of the fabric, identify the type and process used to produce the fabric.  This is complicated but the US government is there to help you.  You can take samples of your goods and send it to the government for a determination of the 10 digit code that applies.

I am enclosing a copy of an actual ruling from the US government - as some people are fond of saying "It's complicated"

APR 24 1991

CLA-2-52:S:N:N3H:352 861275


TARIFF NO: 5208.42.1000; 5513.39.0090; 5515.19.0005

Mr. Pete Heimlich

Global Village Imports
1101 SW Washington #140
Portland, OR 97205-2313

RE: The tariff classification of hand-loomed fabrics from Thailand.

Dear Mr. Heimlich:

In your letter dated February 11, 1991, resubmitted on March 11, 1991, you requested a tariff classification ruling.

You submitted three samples of hand-loomed fabrics identified as items A, B & C. Based on the information provided and laboratory analysis, sample A is composed of 100% cotton, and is constructed of yarns of differen colors. It contains 16.5 single yarns per centimeter in the warp and 17.5 single yarns per centimeter in the filling. This merrchandise is plain woven and weighs 170.3 g/m2. The average yarn number is calculated to be 20 in the metric system.

Sample B is a hand-loomed fabric that is constructed with yarns of different colors. It is composed of 24.4% cotton, 33.1% staple acrylic, 29.4% staple polyester and 13.1% staple rayon. This product contains 37.8 single yarns per centimeter in the warp and 39.4 single yarns per centimeter in the filling. It is woven with a complex weave and weighs 141.5 g/m2. The average yarn number is calculated to be 54 in the metric system.

Sample C is a hand-loomed, yarn dyed fabric composed of 15.1% cotton, 36.4% staple polyester, 17% staple rayon and 31.5% silk. This fabric is woven with a complex weave and weighs 164.5 g/m2. It contains 37.8 single yarns per centimeter in the warp and 36.8 single yarns per centimeter in the filling. The average yarn number is calculated to be 45 in the metric system.

The applicable subheading for the hand-loomed fabric identified as sample A, will be 5208.42.1000, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTS), which provides for woven fabrics of cotton, containing 85 percent or more by weight of cotton, weighing not more than 200 g/m2, of yarns of different colors, plain weave, weighing more than 100 g/m2, certified hand- loomed fabrics. The rate of duty will be 6 percent ad valorem.

Classification of Item A in subheading 5208.42.1000, HTS, is predicated on certification, prior to export, by an official of a government agency of the country where the fabric is produced, that the fabric is made on a hand loom by a cottage industry.

The applicable subheading for the hand-loomed fabric identified as sample B, will be 5513.39.0090, HTS, which provides for woven fabrics of synthetic staple fibers, containing less than 85 percent by weight of such fibers, mixed mainly or solely with cotton, of a weight not exceeding 170 g/m2, of yarns of different colors, other woven fabrics, other. The rate of duty will be 17 percent ad valorem.

The applicable subheading for the hand-loomed fabric identified as sample C, will be 5515.19.0005, HTS, which provides for other woven fabrics of synthetic staple fibers, of polyester staple fibers, other, of yarns of different colors, except blue denim or jacquard weave. The rate of duty will be 17 percent ad valorem.

The hand-loomed samples, designated as items B & C, fall within textile category designation 218. Based upon international textile trade agreements, products of Thailand are subject to visa requirements.

The U. S. has negotiated a Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA) folklore agreement with Thailand. Shipments of hand-loomed fabric and traditional folklore products of cottage industry are exempt from quota and visa requirements if they are a product of a country with which the U. S. has both a bilateral and a visa agreement which specifically exempts such products, provided the foreign government has issued a proper and correct exempt certification. These agreements only waive the quota and visa requirements. This office is not authorized to rule on the exempt status of merchandise which may be subject to these agreements. If you wish a ruling on the exempt status of items B & C, you may write to:

The United States Customs Service
Office of Trade Operations
Textiles and Metals Branch
1301 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20229

The designated textile and apparel category may be subdivided into parts. If so, visa and quota requirements applicable to the subject merchandise may be affected. Since part categories are the result of international bilateral agreements which are subject to frequent renegotiations and changes, to obtain the most current information available, we suggest that you check, close to the time of shipment, the Status Report On Current Import Quotas (Restraint Levels), an internal issuance of the U.S. Customs Service, which is available for inspection at your local Customs office.

This ruling is being issued under the provisions of Section 177 of the Customs Regulations (19 C.F.R. 177).

A copy of this ruling letter should be attached to the entry documents filed at the time this merchandise is imported. If the documents have been filed without a copy, this ruling should be brought to the attention of the Customs officer handling the transaction.


Jean F. Maguire

Area Director

Reading is believing!  WTF?  Is this the best way to utilize government resources?  Is this the best way to spend taxpayer's money?  Is this the best way to encourage and support small business in America?

Once again it is apparent to me that I have been too optimistic and too idealistic.

Once again I am reminded - Most people see things the way that they are and don't ask "Why?" I dream of things the way that they should be and ask "What the @#$% - Why not?"

Just like our federal tax code has been become a labyrinth of clarifications, list of exceptions, and modifications to ameliorate special interest groups, the Harmonized Tariff Schedule is in need of rewriting in my opinion.  If the purpose of the code and schedule is to generate revenue for the Federal Government they should be written to simplify the calculation of required fees and taxes in order the by typical high school graduates.  Jesus said to his disciples "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's".  If I remember my catechism classes he never said "Be sure to hire a good lawyer and a good accountant to determine what is actually and correctly due unto Caesar"  In America today, if Jesus were to walk amongst us, he would have to add this admonishment.

I am stubborn and will continue to dream of the way that things should be and ask "Why not?"

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