June 20, 2011 — -- At a YMCA in Covina, Calif., east of Los Angeles, the "Made in America" team arrived bright and early to find swim instructor Helen Marshall.
ABC News had been told that beyond the swim lessons and aerobics, swimmers were being taught something else by Marshall.
Apparently, she'd been watching and writing "World News." She'd seen all of the videos sent in by viewers, including the wife from Texas and her beloved cowboy boots -- "Made abroad," she found out -- and her husband's firefighting uniform, which was also made overseas.
Marshall had also watched as ABC News reported that 98 percent of the clothes bought in this country are made overseas, with China being the leader. Just 2 percent is made in America.
Swim Class Checks for Made in America Label
After hearing that, she marched into the YMCA and blew the whistle.
"When I watched 'Made in America,' I began to realize when people see something, they think 'What can I do that can really be important or meaningful?'" she said.
Marshall said she thought of her swim class.
"And I thought bathing suits," she said so she had everyone get out of the water and check the labels in their suits.
"They [the swimmers] looked at me like I was crazy," Marshall said.
The countries ranged from Canada and China to Mexico and Cambodia -- not one "Made in America" label. Determined to find one, the group headed to Marshall's, where on a 15-foot rack they found only a single American-made suit.
As the swimmers were searching, "World News" was conducting its own investigation, heading to South Carolina, right outside of Myrtle Beach.
There a tiny swimsuit company called Tara Grinna Swimwear saw a 25 percent growth this year and recently opened two new stores. Designer Tara Grinna started the company, which specializes in hard-to-fit customers and makes custom-fit bra-size swimwear, nearly 25 years ago. It went wholesale 15 years ago.
Still, Tara Grinna isn't the only company still manufacturing in the US. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Lime Ricki Swimwear creates fashionable, yet modest bathing suits. Exelnt Designs Swimwear, in Warren, Mich. specializes in plus-sized bathing suits. The company customizes its swimsuits for each individual customer and offers a variety of colors and styles. For men, Birdwell Beach Britches makes classic boardshorts— even using the same patterns from when the company began in California back in 1961.
Economists say custom-made is the key, because U.S. companies cannot compete with China.
"We can run out on the floor and say, 'OK, women are liking this. Everybody is trying it on. It's not fitting correctly. It's gapping here, bulging there.' And then we change it," said Crystal Quandt, Tara Grinna's spokeswoman. "It's just a sense of pride being able to say, 'Yeah, our suits are made in the U.S.' If you want something custom made, let us know.'"
Lindsey Richardson went to Savannah College of Art and Design for two years and thought she'd have to get a job in New York or Los Angeles to work in her field. She didn't think she'd find a job in fashion design.
"I always wanted to be one of the sewers [at Tara Grinna,]" she said. "I feel very lucky to have found something related to what I wanted to do."
Back at the Covina YMCA, the swim class had found U.S.-made swimwear -- and were looking pretty good too.
"So many people will gripe and complain," Marshall said. "But they won't do anything. I thought this is one little thing I can do."
Swimwear Made in America
"I just wanted to encourage you and Diane Sawyer that your broadcast definitely made an impression," she said. "I was hoping to make an impression further."
If you're looking for a U.S.-made swimsuit, "World News" found several other companies: