To my never-ending annoyance, on the rare occasions when I log in to my social media accounts these days, I am deluged with targeted ads trying to sell me T-shirts with “witty” right-wing slogans on them. I suppose it is fairly easy for the algorithms to correctly identify me as a gun-owning white guy approaching 40 and to therefore assess me as being in the right demographic for that sort of crap. It is apparently more difficult for ad-targeting algorithms to pick up on some of my more nuanced characteristics like being an unabashedly liberal atheist.
At any rate, until there is no demographic willing to buy a T-shirt from someone who printed on that T-shirt that we should ban idiots rather than guns, I suppose we just have to live in a world where ads for useless garbage are poorly targeted online.
But, thanks to the U.S. government, we no longer have to live in a world where poorly targeted T-shirts with eyeroll-inducing slogans on them can also have fake “Made in the USA” tags stitched onto them after arriving here from China.
Back in May, the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Utah-based apparel company Lions Not Sheep Products, LLC and its owner Sean Whalen. According to the FTC, Lions Not Sheep leaned very heavily, to the point of bad taste, into the supposedly American origins of its products. Claims made on product labels and online included: “Made in the USA,” “Made in America,” “Are your products USA Made?” “100% AMERICAN MADE,” and “BEST DAMN AMERICAN MADE GEAR ON THE PLANET.”
Such claims probably appealed to the type of fake patriots who are into T-shirts and jackets that feature phrases like “Let’s Go Brandon” and “Give Violence a Chance.” America first and all, right?
However, the big problem was that Lions Not Sheep apparel was, very much, not made in America. Not only were wholly imported shirts, hats, and other apparel being advertised as having domestic origins, Whalen went so far as to distribute a video on his social media accounts showing him concealing the fact this his company’s shirts are made in China by tearing out the origin tags and replacing them with new labels falsely stating that the products were made in the United States. Whoops!
I guess Whalen did live up to his company’s ungrammatical motto to “show people it’s possible to live your life as a LION, Not a sheep,” because that is totally a lion move. Would a sheep pretend to be a gun-loving America-first patriot and then post a video showing exactly how it was duping its own customers by ripping out those “Made in China” tags and putting in fake “Made in the USA” labels instead?
To no one’s great shock, Whalen and Lions Not Sheep were found to be making prohibited misrepresentations regarding the U.S. origins of their products. A recently unveiled FTC order requires them to, you know, stop doing that. In the future, Lions Not Sheep must be transparent about the origins of its products, and even where some limited work on products has been done domestically, the company will be forced to qualify its claims accordingly. Something tells me the FTC is going to be paying pretty close attention to the follow-through on this one too.
In this case, the FTC isn’t only aiming to curb future bad behavior. There is some retribution for past wrongs too in that Whalen and his company must pay a civil penalty of $211,335. You have to sell a lot of T-shirts to make up for a $211,335 loss. Although that’s only about a day-and-a-half of MAGA hat sales, if you can believe Jared Kushner (which you absolutely can’t and shouldn’t).
So, a round of applause for our diligent FTC for, this time, making sure that MAGA acolytes buying overpriced crap on the internet don’t also get to feel good about it by pretending they’re supporting American jobs. I guess we can count that as a win. The FTC really does deserve more credit for doing a lot of good work that is far too easy to overlook.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.