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Rainbows Owner: 3 of 4 Sandals Made in China Because of EPA Regs

The majority of Rainbow Sandals production is now overseas.

If you live in San Clemente, you probably own a pair of Rainbow sandals. Traditionally, you could be pretty sure they were made in San Clemente.

That's not the case any more: Three of four pairs of Rainbows are made in China.

One of the top-selling sandal companies in the country, Rainbow Sandals, has called San Clemente home for the last 37 years. The outlet/factory on Los Molinos produces top-quality sandals and is typically packed with shoppers.

In 2004, founder and owner Jay Longely decided to ship more than 75 percent of the company’s production to China.

“The air quality management division of the federal government said I could only make 1,000 pairs a day in the San Clemente facility because of the type of solvent used,” Longely said.

The solvent used in the glue, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) is a colorless, flammable liquid that can occur naturally in certain food and beverages and  turns to gas when exposed to air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

“In China we use a VOC-free glue that is green," Longely said, referring to volatile organic compounds, "but it cannot be used in the U.S. because it is flammable and the fire department won't allow it.” 

MEK use became a concern, so the company's production was allotted 500 to 1,000 pairs a day, according to the Air Quality Management District’s standards for quality air.

"One of the ideas the South Coast AQMD has adopted is to protect public health," says AQMD spokesperson Sam Atwood. "The requirement is that the facility not pose a cancer risk that's more than 25 in 1 million over a life time."

The regulations put Longely in a position that required him to move jobs out of the country to grow; he's not allowed to use the non-toxic solvent because it's too flammable, and he can't scrub the fumes from the toxic compound fast enough to be allowed to make more sandals here.

If Rainbow created more than 1,000 pairs of sandals per day at the San Clemente-based factory, the catalytic converter would not be able to absorb the extraneous harmful fumes.

"It has to do with the speed at which the catalytic converter captures the solvent in the air and condenses it," said Longely.

The company has made improvements to the remaining U.S. production, Longely said. The Rainbow outlet in San Clemente is now at zero emissions after spending $1.5 million on an oxidizer, which scrubs out the chemical at 928 degrees, making the end-result emission ventilated hot air, he said.

“The owner goes over to China regularly to try to maintain the quality of his product,” said Rainbow assistant general manager Jon-David Christie. “There have been a couple of instances where they seem to cut a couple of corners to try to increase profit, but we’re really not about that. We’d rather keep it high-quality.”

Customers in San Clemente are still fans of the iconic brand, even if some aren't pleased with the manufacturing move.

“Rainbow sandals are extremely well made,” said Kevin MacGillivray, 41, a San Clemente realty company owner. “They’ve been around when I first came  here in 1979, and I’ve enjoyed wearing them for over 25 years.”

“I wouldn’t want any Rainbows made from China,” said San Clemente local Chaz Berenger, 21. “I see Rainbows all over the place, and it reminds me of San Clemente, where it originated.”

Out of all the countries that would allow Rainbows mass production, Longely said he chose China because it has factories that do not employ children.

Marc Schroeder June 24, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Also, at $45 a pair? I would think there is enough $ in a pair of sandals to figure out a way to employ Americans to build the 1 out of 4 pairs they do build here. Take a peek inside the window and listen to the Spanish being spoken and it is easy to deduce that is not the case. In my opinion, Jay Longly is a perfect example of the type of greed that is ruining America, destroying our middle class and causing illegal immigration .
Mike June 24, 2012 at 10:10 PM
I wouldn't buy a pair now if they were 10.00.
spence August 07, 2012 at 02:06 PM
I have been wearing rainbows for twenty years and in just the past year I have returned four pairs for repair. I never once had to do it any prior years... My next Google search will be, "American high quality flip-flops".
spence August 07, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Build a bigger building or better yet, build a facility on the east coast.
annonomys November 09, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I wish that people would educate themselves before slandering the name of a man who doesnt have a greedy bone in his body. Know who you are talking about before you attack people who paid 5000.00 out of his pocket to repair a memorial that was vandalized, just to help the community. Or Donated, 1000 pairs of custom made Sandals to the San Clemente High School to sell and raise money for the School. Or how about the Thousands of dollars to help build a community park Courtneys Sand Castle. Or there is the annual CIF ladies triton Golf Classic that Rainbow Sandals host for high school girls to play in. How about every single time there is a natural disaster Rainbow Sandals sends hundreds to thousands of pairs of sandals to those areas that need the help. The list of selflessness is endless when it comes to this MAN.

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