History of Oprah’s Favorite Things
When I was growing up, Oprah Winfrey wasn’t just an influencer, she was THE influencer. Back then there was no Internet, just TV. And on TV, you basically had three stations to watch: ABC, NBC, and CBS.
For years, Phil Donahue had dominated the 4 PM time slot with his talk show. And then Oprah came on the scene. Donahue attracted his viewers by being you grump, opinionated uncle, while Oprah was your kind, understanding aunt. I don’t need to tell you how this story ends.
Once Oprah became huge, she became a money printing machine. One episode in particular became her most popular every year: “Oprah’s Favorite Things”. She would share with her audience products she liked that would make great gifts. The added brilliance was that she’d buy these gifts for her audience members, eliciting screams of pure joy that only added to the hype.
It was brilliant because gift giving can be such a terrifying thing. You never know if your recipient is going to love what you give them, hate it, or (even worse than hating it) smile politely and pretend to like it. But Oprah changed that. As your recipient is unwrapping their gift, before they have a chance to make a face, you can interject, “…it was one of Oprah’s favorite this year!!” And because everyone cared what Oprah thought, that instantly made every gift a coveted one.
Her first Favorite Things episode was in 2002, and it continued until her show ended in 2011. But by now the list had taken on a life of its own (as had she). She continued the traditional on her own cable network and magazine. You can still view all of her lists here: 2012. 2013. 2014. 2015. 2016. 2017. 2018. 2019. 2020. 2021. 2022. What started as a small list of 16 items is now 113 items across 8 categories. Somewhere down the line, she also did a partnership with Amazon.
Oprah’s Favorite Things for 2023
Which brings up to the 2023 list.
I can’t help but think back to 2012. How different would the world have looked if influencers like Oprah had spoken out about the dangers of corporate America going all-in on manufacturing in China?
Of course that would never have happened because every politician (whatever letter followed their name), every celebrity, and every corporate executive was salivating at the prospect of getting goods made for pennies on the dollar. Mind you, this was only 25 years after Tienanmen, and 5 years after thousands of dogs and cats were poisoned. But George W. Bush (current net worth: $47,000,000), Bill Clinton (current net worth: $90,000,000) and Oprah (current net worth: $2,800,000,000) led the rest of the country in looking the other way.
To be clear, this isn’t a meant to be a knock on Oprah. She does a lot of good for a lot of people, and even if she wanted to, there wasn’t much she could do to stem the tide of corporate America squealing like pigs at the troph to get access to the labor, made cheap by the perfect storm of Chinese government corruption, labor conditions, environmental practices, and animal cruelty.
That said, China today has taken the mask off and we can see it for what it is. It isn’t the harmless, adorable little country of happy people waving as we saw during the 2008 Olympics. It is a country filled with corruption whose rot goes up to the top echelons of the CCP, and which has ambitions to dominate the world by proving that a totalitarian regime that controls its citizens is superior than a country that embraces freedom and democracy.
All that said, I figured I’d go through Oprah’s list and see for myself–how many of her picks are NOT made in China? In my own little way, I hope analyses like this open the eyes of American influencers, consumers, and corporations alike of the mess we’re in, and how we all played a part in getting there.
- Amelia Rose Diamond Initial Necklace – Investigating
- Haven Well Within Cashmere Colorblock Yoke Sweater – Made in China
- Haven Well Within Cashmere Pintuck Joggers – Made in China
- Telfar Medium Shopping Bag – Made in China
- Rebecca Allen The All Weather Boots – Made in Brazil
- Sterling Forever The Perfect O-ccasion Earring Case – Investigating
- Top It Off Sherry Gloves – Made in China
- YGN Headwraps T-Shirt Turban – Made in the USA
- Mali+Lili Lola Beauty Bag Duo – Investigating
- Lunya Organic Pima Wide-Leg Pant – Most likely Made in China with cotton from Peru
- Peepers by PeeperSpecs Marquee and That’s a Wrap Readers – Made in China
- Take OFF Luggage Personal Item Suitcase 2.0 – Made in China
- Hoop Mobb Melanated Hoops – Made in the USA (Michigan)
- Tory Burch Classic Rain Loafers – Made in Vietnam with raw materials from China
- 32º Degrees Women’s Lightweight Recycled Poly-Fill Shirt Jacket – Investigating
- SPGBK Griffin and Montclair Watches – Made in the USA
- Brouk & Co The Capri Everyday Stripe Tote – Made in China
Of the 17 items in this category, I was able to confirm that 4 were completely not made in China.
Amazon’s refusal to make Country of Origin a mandatory field makes this exercise REALLY hard. I have to call, email, reach out on social media, and use every Google skill I have to try to find some of this information.
And even then it’s like pulling teeth–ask the customer service agent at Tory Burch who I spent 40 minutes trying to get an answer from for the Tory Burch loafers. My conclusion was that because Tory Burch outsources to several different manufacturers, you might get a pair made in Vietnam (as ShopBop did—and kudos to ShopBop for including country of origin on their Web site) or a pair from China. The one thing I was able to confirm was that the raw material used to make it (the rubber) came from China.
2. Cozy Gifts
- House No.23 Alaia Sherpa Robe – Made in Turkey
- Stripe & Stare Lounge Pant and Sweatshirt Set – Made in China
- Lollia Elegance Bubble Bath – Made in the USA
- R0AM Fuzzy Platforms – Investigating
- Kashwere Women’s Cozy Full Zip Jacket – Investigating
- Lollia Elegance Fine Bathing Salts – Investigating
- Lands Downunder Italian Herringbone Throw – Made in Italy
- Softies Solid Marshmallow Reverse-Seam Lounge Set – Made in China
- Harlem Candle Co. Purple Love Luxury Candle – Made in the USA
- Spanx AirEssentials Top – Made in one of these countries
- Spanx AirEssentials Pants – Made in one of these countries
- Barefoot Dreams CozyChic 3 Pair Sock Set – Made in China
- Kaans Designs Holiday Sweatshirts – Investigating
- Mersea Cozy Cabin Mittens – Investigating
- HonestBaby Holiday Family Jammies – Made in India
I confirmed that 5 of 15 in this category weren’t made in China. Where you see “Investigating” it means that I reached out to the merchant directly but haven’t heard back yet. If and when I do, I’ll update this list. If you happen to know, I’d appreciate if you could let me know in the comments.
Spanx is a good example of a product that got so big that it manufactures out of multiple factories, including China. It’s also one of those categories where you see Amazon flooded with imitations, many which look strangely similar (in some cases using identical product images), making you wonder if the subcontractor they’re using isn’t running their product by day and counterfeit products by night.
3. Kid’s Gifts
- Musee Dollhouse Bath Balm Set – Made in the USA
- Bukowski The Big Boy Anton – Investigating
- Bukowski Antonio Baby Polar Bear – Investigating
- ZuZoo The Safari Series – Investigating
- Puzzle Huddle Shapes and Learning Puzzle – Made in China
- Alimrose Halle Ballerina Doll – Made in the Philippines
- Roq Innovation Headlightz Kids LED Beanie and Glove Set – Made in China
- Banwood Scooter – Made in China
- Chance Bloom and Rise Basketballs – Made in Vietnam
- Proudly Moisture Layering Gift Set – Made in the USA
- Super Smalls Make It Purple Mini Bead Kit – Made in the USA*
- Phaidon Press My Art BooksMy Art Book of Happiness – Investigating
- Isle of Us Holiday Cookie Kits – Made in the USA
Oprah fared a little better in this category; 5 of 13 products are confirmed not made in China so far. I believe it’s mainly due to the fact that parents as a group take the time to do extra research for what they buy their children. It’s true that most parents don’t remember or never heard of what happened in 2007 when China contractors working for big brands like Mattel poisoned American children with lead (the same year they killed American cats and dogs with melamine). The big brands count on us forgetting. But enough of us have remembered that we make great pains not to buy things made in China, particularly things that children wear or put in their mouths.
Some brands think we’re stupid. Bukowski’s Web site raves about how their stuffed animals are “designed in Sweden”. Banwood says their scooters are “Made in Germany / Ethically and sustainable manufactured in China”. The good news is that more brands are figuring out that we as consumers are getting more educated.
Bear in mind that for products like the Super Smalls Bead Kit, while the product listing says “Made in the USA”, it’s likely that the components inside are made in China.
4. Kitchen Gifts
- Sophistiplate Maple Leaf at Home x Meg Quinn Charcuterie Map Board – Made in the USA
- Sister.ly Drinkware Clear Double-Wall Glass Coffee Mug – Made in China – better alternatives here
- Le Creuset Bread Oven – Made in France
- Etu Home Crock and Utensil Set – Made in Hungary
- Fellow Stagg EKG Pro Electric Kettle – Made in China – better alternatives here
- Ooni Volt 12 Electric Pizza Oven – Made in China
- Leeway The Stock The Bar – Investigating
- Mi Cocina The Waist Apron – Made in the USA
- De’Longhi TrueBrew Drip Coffee Maker – Made in Romania
- Zwilling Enfinigy Wireless Charging Kitchen Scale – Made in China
- Schmidt Bros. Bonded Teak Grill Set – Made in China – Better alternative here
- Crux Cruxgg 6-Slice Digital Air Fryer Toaster Oven – Made in China
- Cangshan Helena Series Set – Made in China – better alternatives here
This was a category I was dreading; as long-time readers of this blog know I’ve spent hours and hours to no avail looking for products like air fryers and toasters. But 5 of 13 product weren’t made in China.
5. Engaging Gifts
- Gifting The Color Purple Movie Ticket – n/a
- Beats Studio Pro – Made in China – Better alternative here
- Paintable Pictures Pets Edition – Made in China
- Oprah Daily Oprah’s “The Life You Want” Book Lover’s Journal – Investigating
- Jiggy Purple Rising Puzzle Kit – Made in the USA
- Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo Hybrid Instant Camera – Made in China
- Peter Pauper Press Organizer – Investigating
- Amazon Kindle Scribe – Made in China
- How to Be More Tree – Printed in China
- Meta Quest 3 – Made in China
- Purple Rising – Investigating
Back to reality, only one product in this category so far is definitely not made in China.
6. Beauty Gifts
- Dear Sundays Wellness Box of Three – Made in the USA
- Lalais The Blotting Compact – Made in the USA
- Balaeyon Dew Revive – Investigating
- Archipelago Botanicals Hand Crème Gift Set – Made in the USA
- Bossy Cosmetics The Wonderful World of Bossy Women 5 Luxe Liquid Lipstick Set – Made in Italy
- Foot Nanny Footnanny At Home Pedicure Kit – Investigating
- Grace & Company Esther and Ophir Shower Caps – Made in China – better alternative here
- Jenny Patinkin Sustainable Luxury Makeup Brush Set – Made in China (they do mention that their “Luxury Vegan Makeup Brushes” are made in South Korea, so check those out instead).
- TheraFace Pro – Made in China
- Beekman 1802 Eight-Piece Bar Soap Gift Set – Made in the USA
- Ami Cole Desert Date Cream Multistick – Made in Italy
- Laura Geller Party in a Palette Guest of Honor – Made in China
- Sweet July Day + Night Face Towel Set – Made in Turkey
- Shinery Radiance Wash Luxury Jewelry Cleaner and Brush Duo – Made in the USA
- Fount Society Body Butter – Made in the USA
I’ve often found that the beauty category, the baby category, and as we’ll see below, the food category are generally more likely to have things not made in China. Hopefully even at a subconscious level people understand that you don’t want to be putting stuff made in China on or in your body. A whopping 9 out of 15 products here are confirmed not to be made in China.
7. Food Gifts
- Exau Due2 Gift Set – Made in Italy
- Zola Bakes Purple Ombré Rainbow Cookies – Made in the USA
- Trade Street Jam Co. Favorite Things Gift Set – Made in the USA
- Original Mortgage Apple Cake – Made in the USA
- Red Bay Coffee Holiday Gift Set – Made in the USA (California)
- Hamilton Cornerstore Cast Iron Skillet with Cornbread Mix & Biscuit Mix – Made in the USA
- Taste of Kyri’s Kookies – Made in the USA (Georgia)
- Zach & Zoe Sweet Bee Farm Raw Wildflower + Blueberry Honey Gift Set – Made in the USA (New Jersey)
- Boarderie The Ultimate Baked Brie Board – Made in the USA (Florida)
- One More Cocoa Hot Chocolate Box Set – Made in Canada
- Hot N Saucy Holiday Hot Box – Made in the USA (New York)
- Stone Hollow Farmstead Blissful Breakfast Gift Box – Made in the USA
- Vesta Chocolate Limited Edition Holiday Amethyst Bean-to-Jewel Bonbons – Made in the USA
- Bella Cucina Pizza Party Kit – Made in the USA (Georgia)
- My Fabulous Food Luxury Salt Duo – Made in English and France
- Truff White Truffle Gift Set – Made in the USA
- Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. Cheese Celebration Collection – Made in the USA (California)
I was happy to see that this is one of the categories that has NOT yet been taken over by China. There wasn’t one item on this list that was made there. I think this is for several reasons.
The first is that Oprah tends to feature small, minority-owned businesses; it’s usually not until a business really takes off into the multi-million dollar range before their investors start pressuring them to cut costs by hiring cheap labor.
The second is really just logistics. Even with the CCP’s thumb on the scales, it makes zero sense for a company to outsource to China when so many of the supplies and skilled workers are here locally.
The third is that for some reason Americans are good at rejecting food that comes from China. Yes, from time to time you see “Made in China” food items at CVS, Dollar Tree or from places like Oriental Trading Company. As consumers, we really need to push back HARD when we see this. They’ve given over every other industry to China, and now they want to let China control what we put into our bodies (aside from the pharmaceuticals they already do)? I don’t think so, especially not with China’s record of pollution and horrible worker conditions.
I wish that other categories were like this. And one thing we need to remember as consumers is that if we don’t watch out, then pretty soon all our food will come from China just as sure as all our pharmaceuticals do today.
8. Wellness Gifts
- Saysh The Felix Runner – Made in Vietnam
- Corkcicle 24-Ounce Cold Cup – Made in China – better alternatives here
- Hairbrella Waterproof Sun Hat – Made in the USA
- Oprah Daily Oprah’s “The Life You Want” Finding Your Purpose Journal – Investigating
- WanderFull HydroBag – Made in China
- Roam Loud Yanta Leggings – Investigating
- Roam Loud Yanta Tank Bra – Investigating
- Build the Life You Want – Printed in the USA
- Asutra Eye Pillow – Made in China – better alternative here
- Dock & Bay Dog Towel – Made in China – better alternative here
- Springer Classic Dog Travel Bottle – Made in China – better alternative here
- Pride and Groom The Tool Kit – Made in the USA
Back to reality, 4 of 12 products here are confirmed not made in China. Perhaps the most disappointing thing was to see dog products made in China again. After the melamine tragedy of 2007, Americans had steered away from China for pet products. American brands counted on pet owners forgetting, and they forgot. For my part, I promised myself never to get something from China for a baby or a pet, and while it’s tough it’s not impossible
So how did Oprah do? Overall, 50 of 113 products she chose were NOT made in China. Yes, she was helped by the food category, but on the other hand, once all the products I’m still investigating come in, it might be even more.
Again, I’m guessing that neither Oprah nor her team really care about country of origin, because American consumers don’t care. We want stuff cheap and well-made, in that order. China has been all too eager to help with the cheap part by cheating. And it is also eager to attract quality brands so that it can turn around and mass produce counterfeits that they can sell at pennies to the dollar of the brand they stole the IP from.
What can you and I do as consumers? Reward those brands that don’t make things in China, and avoid products that are made in China. I started to put together a list of potential alternatives to several of the products; if there’s any particular product you’d like me to find an alternative for, please feel free to leave it in the comments. Happy holiday shopping!