Hypocrisy Abounds Over Olympic Uniforms

Discussion
Jul 17, 2012

A lot of people are genuinely upset over the news that the new U.S. Olympic team uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren were made in China. Basically, it’s a question of patriotism. How can the U.S. Olympic committee send out America’s best athletes to compete against other nation’s wearing uniforms made by one of our chief rivals and a country that practices communism?

Our political leaders, of course, were dismayed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested burning the uniforms.

House Speaker John Boehner shook his head and said the USOC should have known better.

But here’s the thing. This isn’t new. When the U.S. held the Olympics here in Utah, the uniforms were made in Burma. And almost none of the clothing found in store racks today is manufactured here in the U.S. Where’s the demonstration of patriotism on the part of well-meaning Americans when there are no Olympic games? Hundreds of thousands of apparel manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas for decades. Why aren’t Americans walking into stores and demanding that retailers source goods made in the U.S.A.?

Now there are a few retailers selling clothing today with goods manufactured here. American Apparel is the most high profile example. Others, like American Giant, an online merchant of men’s basics, think they’ve hit on a model that will connect with consumers across the nation.

Bayard Winthrop, founder of American Giant, started the company with the idea of having a consumer facing business with a manufacturing component.

"People are starting to pay more attention to where products are being made and how they’re being made," Mr. Winthrop told RetailWire. "They’re looking to direct their dollars to something they can believe in. I think it’s also tied into this whole national anxiety about whether we’re a country of makers anymore. We’re at the beginning stage of something I think is going to become a long-term trend."

Mr. Winthrop chose the e-tail only model not only because it helped to reduce costs, a significant obstacle to others that have taken the ‘Made in America’ route in the past, but because he believed it would help him maintain the quality edge in product and service that more U.S. consumers are coming to demand. Free shipping and unconditional returns are just two service points that American Giant touts.

"A lot of the great, traditional American brands I grew up with have moved their operations overseas. They’ve given up the American-made story," he told RetailWire. "I became interested in apparel because I think there are a lot of inefficiencies in the apparel manufacturing network. I saw an opportunity to bring a new men’s basics brand to the market that has the ability to scale, a price that can meet the mass audience, and deliver real brand and quality story to the consumer."

American Giant kicked off its business in February with sweatshirts and a plan of introducing new designs to its collection every six to eight weeks. The most recent introduction is USA Collection includes a United States crewneck sweatshirt, an American flag patch snap cardigan and American flag polo in very limited quantities.

Discussion Questions: Do you think the brouhaha (yes, we said brouhaha) over the Olympics uniforms will lead to more clothing being manufactured in the U.S.? Have companies such as American Giant hit on an opportunity, both from the consumer desire perspective as well as a logistics model, to be successful with ’Made in America’ goods again?

Join the Discussion!

27 Comments on "Hypocrisy Abounds Over Olympic Uniforms"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

It would not be difficult for the USOC to source Olympic uniforms domestically, instead of manufacturing in China, Burma (really?) or elsewhere. It’s not surprising that a tone-deaf decision is met with political outrage in the middle of the current conversation about insourcing or outsourcing.

But will consumers willingly shift their allegiance toward US-made goods on an everyday basis? Not likely, given the pricing benefits of manufacturing overseas.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust
The first time I found myself subjected to this type of irony was when I visited Australia in the late ’90s. I bought some souvenirs and found the “Made in China” label on the bottom. I think it’s good for Americans to take a good hard look at “how they make the sausage.” On the one hand, we really enjoy the cheap chic of products made in China, and in fact, apparel prices have been deflating for years. But on the other hand, we have lost a big part of our national identity and (more importantly) our national economy. Would I prefer to buy products made in the USA? Absolutely. But only if the products are high quality. Having said that, I can afford to spend a bit more dollars on my stuff. I’m not sure how a minimum wage worker would react. I think the best place to start is the high end, actually, where people like me can make a statement. Having said all of that…Lauren should be ashamed of itself for making Olympic uniforms in China, and I would probably prefer to see whoever gets that kind of contract commit in writing to making their product here.
Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

This will have some effect, but not much. The American consumer seems to have a very short attention span.

Remember Walmart made in America? Where is it today? American consumers want low cost, no matter what the cost.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

There is an opportunity for companies to manufacture clothing in the US if they can make a quality product at a competitive price. Some consumers will go out of their way to buy garments made in the USA, but most will shop on price.

Frank Riso
BrainTrust

I am old enough to remember when Walmart would advertise that all their clothing was made in America, but that is not the case anymore. I think our politicians should get a grip. Let them burn all their clothing not made in America. It could make watching CSPAN interesting for a change.

As the world economy changes and countries like China become more “middle class” the cost of goods manufactured there should be as competitive as goods manufactured in America. There are a number of articles that demonstrates how making clothing back in America with newer technology and given the current job market can compete with China, India, and other areas around the world.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
5 years 1 month ago

Brouhahas are frequently created by hidden agendas. The America methodology, with government support, has been to outsource almost everything that can be produced cheaper in other countries and then sold here in the USA for less than if it were produced here.

Made in America is a great objective. That requires that we are competitive in both price and quality. The trouble is that we Americans don’t keep our objectives straight.

I saw a cartoon in this morning’s paper showing a retail store with Made in America signs all over the walls offering an iPad completely made in America for $1,800. The American customer said, “(Are you nuts?) I’m not going to pay that much for an iPad.”

Selective and specialty goods that are “Made in America” can have some success. But until corporate taxes, work rules and pensions, and consumers’ attitudes change, America doesn’t look like it will be the Manufacturer to the World.

David Livingston
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

This was just a politician grandstanding. No one really cares. We should be grateful that our citizens don’t have to work in clothing sweatshops.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

Made in America is great in theory, but when it comes down to making that purchase, consumers want a deal. The high-end clothing will sell, but the other stuff made overseas will not be coming back anytime soon.

There are ways to compete from my business brain, but the reality is that government rules and regulations have made this the impossible dream. It is a shame, but nobody is going to convince me this is going to change. I hope I’m wrong.

Roger Saunders
BrainTrust

This is political noise in an election year. Harry Reid is full of potatoes with his comment, and John Boehner is being too cautious in his comments about USOC.

The U.S. Olympic Committee needs to be marshaling their funds in the best way possible. It would be impossible for for them to have Ralph Lauren fulfill a small, custom job like the athletes line of clothing, in a cost-efficient manner.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, and comfortable with the fact that we need to import many goods, so we can export many goods. We are dealing in a worldwide economy. Actions, like the Olympics, create the opportunity for design, marketing, distribution, and sales of clothing lines in the U.S. Each of those phases can and does create jobs. With the right product lines in the textile industry, we can continue to manufacture “Made in America.”

The Olympic uniforms are not one of those product lines.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

No and no.

Nothing against American Giant, I truly love and support what they and many other manufacturers are trying to do, however, most Americans only give lip service to the “Made in America” issue. As discussed here in yesterday’s Amazon piece and in many other RW articles, people are shopping price. Most still do so even in a good economy. The American psyche is to accumulate as much stuff as possible and that’s done through price shopping not adhering to a moral principal. Remember, more than any other entity, Walmart is attributed with creating the biggest push for imported Chinese goods and they are doing just fine.

Still, I’m very disappointed that for this year’s games and apparently past games, the USOC is not demonstrating some moral leadership and requiring made in USA uniforms. That said, the major running shoe brands make most if not all of their merchandise overseas.

BTW — the carpet in the Congress emblazoned with bald eagle seals was made in the UK. So don’t put much stock in the ramblings of politicians on this matter.

gordon arnold
Guest
It’s going to take more than an outcry to bring the garment industry back to the USA. The continuance of any industry in a location anywhere is a matter of production scale capability and cost per unit vs. market threshold prices. The reason the automobile industry remains in the US is simple, nobody else can produce and distribute cars and trucks as fast and as cost effectively. When American industrialists determine that there is a lot of money to be made by producing something in the United States they will build it there. The more complicated it is to build and maintain an industry and the more interference they encounter on the way to making something here the less interest they have. More importantly, fewer and fewer people are asking where the stuff they “need” is from. In this five + year old economic depression the consumer search is on for a good enough product at a low price. The demand for American made product is assassinated every minute at cash registers all over the country and the world. The answer for re-building industry in the USA will not be found in what was once, but for what we can… Read more »
David Biernbaum
BrainTrust

First, this is such an easy opportunity for politicians to wave the flag and get some cheap headlines and grab a few votes. From my perspective, I would much rather that the uniforms be made in the USA. But my bigger issue is how RL made the uniform’s design look like our men and women are from the U.K. or from some other nation. Berets look like America… really?

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
5 years 1 month ago

There’s a reason that most of the apparel in this country is imported. Nobody wants to pay $35 for a tee-shirt (or a beret for that matter). Between labor costs, regulations, and the highest corporate tax rate in the world, it simply is more expensive to make products here. This doesn’t make importers any less patriotic, it makes them rational business managers Personally, I wish American Giant the best of luck. But the track record of consumers in large numbers paying significantly more for American-made products is not very good.

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

Let’s see where this takes us. American workers could get together and create their own clothing manufacturing facility with output priced at affordable levels. And let’s say stores had a section where they promoted made in America goods. We’ve talked about healthy food sections, why not Good for America sections with manufactured in America products.

I like the idea of Congress members checking their own clothing labels. If the tag doesn’t say Made in the US, replace it with another garment that was made here. What a challenge!

Mike Adams
Guest
Mike Adams
5 years 1 month ago

There is a market for “made in America” goods but I don’t believe it will ever be a majority. The American consumer is so price focused that domestic made goods are a luxury, especially in these economic times.

I suspect that the election year is driving the brouhaha level to 11. So many of our soft goods are made overseas that it isn’t surprising that our Olympic uniforms would fall into the same category. That being said, someone at RL should have understood that this would be a PR disaster.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I have never agreed with John Boehner on anything! …but I do now. Our Olympic outfits aren’t a microcosm of American retail. They’re a highly specialized and symbolic representation of our country, and it was just dumb to source them from outside the US, no matter what the economics.

Stacy Graiko
Guest
Stacy Graiko
5 years 1 month ago

I hope the brouhaha leads to consumers thinking about where their clothing is made, for sure, as more US-made clothing would benefit us all. But as a fashion enthusiast, I would have to say US designers that manufacture in the US need to do a better job making their clothing accessible (i.e. affordable and available) to the masses. American Apparel is the only example of a US designer that comes to mind as having stylish product + great distribution + good prices. If there were more, I’d buy more (but sorry American Giant — I am not into US flags on my clothing or polo shirts!) Also, the “made in America” label needs to be sexed up quite a bit to make it appealing to people who care about fashion. As it is, it feels old-fashioned and kind of desperate.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

No. Value and price are obstacles too big for clothing and most items to overcome. We are in a global economy and there are many good things that being in a global economy offers. We need to continue to reinforce the advantages that a global economy offers and not go backwards in our thinking to try and insulate ourselves from the rest of the world. We have been moving to a global economy for over 60 years and now is not the time to stop.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Amazing how Olympic competition can be co-opted to fan nationalistic flames. Of course it was thoughtless of Ralph Lauren’s company to source these particular garments from overseas factories. But then again, it sources most of its line that way. And this is, after all, an international event.

After witnessing the politicians’ grandstanding and posturing over this issue, we can safely conclude that it is all about appearances. I doubt that most Americans care a lot about this principle, but it made for a few neat little sound bites on the nightly news cycle.

All things being more or less equal (like price, quality and style) I think Americans would like to buy American-made goods. But personal economics eclipses personal principles most of the time. A company manufacturing here must be competitive to win. That’s the American way, isn’t it?

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

Not likely that this will really change anything. While “Made in the USA” resonates with folks on a base level, when it comes right down to it, if the price is too high or the quality not acceptable, it won’t matter to consumers where most items are made.

George Anderson
Staff

Having worn some American Giant products, I can attest that the quality and price is on par with what you would find in better department stores. They remind me of the way t-shirts, sweat shirts, etc. used to feel, meaning that you expect them to last.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I have heard and read some interesting comments since this has become “viral.” Most have been from friends going to their closets and discovered “Oh, my clothes are made offshore.” Why are we surprised when we make these revelations?

We scream from both sides of our mouths. First, we say we want lower pricing. But to get it we are told off shoring is the way to go. Next we say we want more jobs and less off shoring. We are forced to buy the premise we can’t have both. But George’s article says different. Maybe we need to go to the window, open it and scream “I am mad as hell and will not put up with this anymore.

As for the Olympic Athlete’s uniform. What great political fodder this has created. We will bring home the Gold no matter where the uniforms were made.

Ed Dunn
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Ralph Lauren is not a cheap brand and it is shameful RL would go the cheapest route to create clothes for athletes who are going to represent their own country.

For F-1 drivers representing their country, Ferrari and Ford built special Formula race cars in their own back yard as a source of pride and branding, I would expect Ralph Lauren to have the same high standards for our athletes.

Tom Redd
Guest

It’s tough to construct an argument against the ra-ra patriotic message of our USA Team wearing uniforms made in the USA. We have to remember that all support for US Olympic teams come from private and not government sources and as such these private enterprises make economic-based business decisions. Sometimes these are not in sync with increasing domestic jobs, but in the long term I think bringing in more than economics into the decision may actually enhance the BRAND and indirectly fit the rational economic argument.

Just some thoughts…and GO USA!

Jason Williams
Guest
Jason Williams
5 years 1 month ago

Is this really a new problem or is it just something the media finally decided to latch onto? We live in a flat world, many different things are made in many different places. The US is not the only country at the Olympic Games to be wearing uniforms from China. I doubt our other items, including running shoes, swimsuits, javelins, etc. were all made in the US either. Personally I don’t see how this is a problem. Go Team USA!

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

The USOC chose not to specify the uniforms be made domestically. Apparel and bidding are about price. Any amazement by our politicians is either grandstanding or naivety.

On the other hand, someone at either RL should have questioned why the garments were being made outside the USA, particularly since they’re custom clothing. It exemplifies a lack of leadership and vision.

Verlin Youd
BrainTrust

Some good points made by others already. I think this is a reality of the global nature of our current economy.

I would also point out that this is not a first. At a recent winter games the US team was outfitted in apparel prominently displaying the “Roots” brand logo, a brand that is consummate Canadian (the Canadians have worn Roots branded apparel several times at Olympics) and is primarily manufactured in Asia today. According to Roots’ own website, “For the longest while, we made most Roots products in Canada but in recent years we have shifted some of our manufacturing abroad as a result of technical, economic and capacity challenges.” An open letter to their customers titled “How We Do Business” can be found here.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How important a factor is a product’s manufacturing source to the purchase decision?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...