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Hypocrisy Abounds Over Olympic Uniforms

July 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.

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