Last week Ralph Lauren upset politicians across the country when it came to light that the Olympic opening ceremony uniforms donated by the brand were made in China; at the apex of the outrage was Senator Harry Reid, who declared that they should be burned. There's been a cooling off period over the weekend with writers coming out to defend Ralph Lauren and also uncovering many other brands who are providing Olympic gear that isn't manufactured in the country whose athletes will be wearing it.
WWD's Bridget Foley made no bones about being disgusted. "Most offensive, this professed outrage by members of Congress ignores the fact that Ralph Lauren the man is someone who declares his patriotism regularly, without embarrassment, and puts his money where his sentiments are — not just when the Olympics roll around," she wrote. "How many millions did Lauren plunk down a few years ago to restore the tattered Old Glory?" She went on to point out that Ralph Lauren has done a lot to spotlight American fashion, and concluded:
To gorge like a pack of hungry rats on the notion that the USOC should reject sponsorship from an extremely generous, powerhouse American company because that company produces off-shore is counterproductive, trivializing a major economic issue into opportunistic, childish sound bites.
Ouch. And also, good point. After a solid day of silence, Ralph Lauren released the following statement Friday evening about the hoopla:
After a solid day of silence, Ralph Lauren released the following statement Friday evening about the hoopla:
For more than 45 years Ralph Lauren has built a brand that embodies the best of American quality and design rooted in the rich heritage of our country. We are honored to continue our longstanding relationship with the United States Olympic Committee in the 2014 Olympic Games by serving as an Official Outfitter of the US Olympic and Paralympic teams. Ralph Lauren promises to lead the conversation within our industry and our government addressing the issue of increasing manufacturing in the United States and has committed to producing the Opening and Closing ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States that will be worn for the 2014 Olympic Games.
While Ralph Lauren has bowed a bit to pressure, it turns out that it's not the only company that opted to produce its Olympic uniforms outside of the US. Nike, which incidentally provides althetic gear to countries like China and Russia, produces a lot offshore. According to OregonLive, Nike released the following statement: "The product we create for U.S. athletes at the Olympics is made in multiple countries, including the U.S."
And this lack of home-grown gear isn't just an American issue either. According to WWD, Spain's uniforms are made in Russia; Adidas (the official sportswear partner of the London 2012 Olympic Games) produces in Cambodia, Chian, Indonesia, Turkey and many more countries; and even Stella McCartney produced some pieces outside the UK. So is it all political grandstanding? Seems so.
An anonymous manufacturing exec told WWD, "[Politicians] should check their cars, their refrigerator parts. Every piece of sporting equipment, every bat, everything is made in China. This is the dumbest thing I['ve] ever heard." A Chicago Tribune Olympics writer added this to the argument: (via IHT) “Until the U.S. government starts providing funds for Olympic athletes, as every other government in the world does, Congress has no truck telling the U.S. Olympic Committee where to get its uniforms or where they should be made.”
The bigger issue, and one that certainly can't be resolved before the Olympics takes place, is that so much of manufacturing is global now--and it's not a black and white issue. The WWD article points out that some of the same politicians who have condemned Ralph Lauren have also voted for free trade deals. And we're pretty sure that many US companies would love to still produce here if it were a financially viable option. As Bridget Foley points out, perhaps some of these politicians can start working on how to bring back garment manufacturing to American soil.
UPDATE: On Monday nine Democratic senators, led by Sen Robert Menendez (NJ), introduced the "Team USA Made in America Act" which requires the USOC to ensure that "all ceremonial uniforms for the U.S. Olympic team to be 'sewn or assembled in the United States with fabrics formed and cut in the U.S. or components knit to shape from yarns wholly formed in the US,'"WWD is reporting. The bill would require the USOC to provide justification if it can't meet the stringent "Made in America" requirements.
Have Ralph Lauren's jaunty berets been burned in effigy for the purpose of some political grandstanding, or do you agree that American athletes should wear 100% American-made goods?