What Not to Wear: RL’s Olympian Mistake

From The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2012:

The U.S. trade deficit with China continues to grow…climbing 17% to $99.7 billion… 


Heather Mitts and Tim Morehouse appear on NBC News' 'Today' show.[Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC NewsWire/Getty Images]

Oh my. Can we talk about the Olympic uniforms? I know, I know. It’s too late to change them now, so why look in the rear view mirror? One-thousand outstanding U.S. athletes already paraded around in them during last night’s opening ceremonies in London. The world didn’t end, did it? But you have to wonder how this fiasco could’ve been prevented. If only Ralph Lauren had checked in with fashionistas Stacy London and Clinton Kelly at TLC’s What Not to Wear, surely he would’ve gotten the snarky, necessary truth. “Ralph, honey, no no no,” Stacy would’ve said. “Seriously? Berets? Giant Polo insignias? White pants? Ascots? What’re we going for here? Che Guevara meets C.K. Dexter Haven ? Puh-leeze. Spare me.”

But no: tanned, snowy-haired Ralph Lauren, the 122nd richest individual in the world with a net worth of $7.5 billion, didn’t reach out for guidance. The posh-meets-revolution uniforms are now part of our shared American history.

Still, there’s a bright side to this. Let the records show that 2012 was the year America finally woke up and began to read labels. Specifically the labels inside those Olympic uniforms. And what did we–or rather the correspondents at ABC’s World News–find in every single Ralph Lauren-designed Olympic blazer, blouse, beret and more? Made in China. Were we / they really surprised?

As American outrage spread across the fruited plain, congressional party leaders from both sides of the political aisle marched in front of TV cameras to condemn the U.S. Olympic committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fumed: “I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.” Ok Harry. Pass the lighter fluid. Stacy London gets to light the first match. (By the way, China’s official state media condemned Sen. Reid’s assertion and called the flap “ridiculous.”)

Thing is, the offending China-made goods hadn’t cost the athletes or U.S. taxpayers a dime. Good ol’ Ralph had donated the entire lot. But Americans had reached a tipping point. Didn’t RL and the Olympic committee know we are in a recession? Hadn’t they seen the unemployment numbers? How tough could it be to manufacture the Olympic uniforms here? New York designer Nanette Lepore weighed in. Yes, the uniforms could be made here. She could help.  

Meanwhile, a quick check on ralphlauren.com tells the broader story. A search for “Made in the U.S.A.” products yielded 260 items. A search for “Imported” products yielded 7,451 items. Again, is this really a surprise? Made-in-China or Anywhere-But-Here is not a recent phenomenon. Ninety-five percent of this country’s apparel manufacturing left for lower-wage countries long ago. We are one big happy free-trading globalized planet, right? Isn’t that what Thomas L. Friedman insisted we accept in his 571-page memo called The World is Flat? Give it up, America.  Put on your Ralph Lauren uniforms and play nice.

But wait, not so fast.

The nonpartisan Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) recently announced the results of a June 28-July 2 survey conducted by Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research. Polling 1,200 likely general election voters, 83 percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable view of companies that outsource jobs to China.  In contrast, voters maintain extremely favorable views of goods manufactured in the U.S., with a 97 percent favorable view. Take a look at other statistics this polling revealed:


Let the games begin, Olympic and otherwise. When purchasing products, read labels. Is there a Made in the U.S.A. alternative? Email Ralph Lauren, urge him to bring at least some manufacturing back to the U.S.A. If he’ll agree to do that, we’ll agree to pretend his Olympian mistake never happened. Sounds fair to me.    


4 thoughts on “What Not to Wear: RL’s Olympian Mistake”

  1. Hi Tina: Thanks for your great article and the suggestion to send a message to Ralph Lauren telling why we want to have more products made in the USA.

    I sent an email to Ralph Lauren at this address: Press@PoloRalphLauren.com

    Dear PoloRalphLauren:

    I have purchased Ralph Lauren clothing, towels, and sheets on many occasions. These products have not been made in the USA but rather in China. This gives American jobs to other countries that I do not wish to support. Please bring the manufacturing of these products back to the U.S.A. Then more Americans will be able to purchase your products.

    P.S. I am disappointed that your US Olympic Uniforms are made in China.

  2. Tina,

    There’s the other side of this “Made in” coin. And it doesn’t shine at all. Back in the ’30s and ’40s, clothes were made in the garment center of lower Manhattan. And the Bronx. And Brooklyn. Endless banks of sewing machines. And a woman behind each. I believe they were called “piece goods”. The more pieces you sewed, the more money you would make. But it took one hellova lot of pieces to bring up two kids. These were the infamous sweat shops and they earned their name.

    Then these women stood up. For a descent wage. And it worked for a while.

    Now there are new sweat shops in China. The greed still prevails. But now the nation suffers. What will it take to learn our lesson?

  3. Hey Tina,
    Your recent post resonated with me as I read an article a few days ago by Mark Purdy in the CCT. In expressing some of his views regarding the Olympic competion between the USA and China, he seemed dismayed that so many folks were in an uproar about beating China at the games. He says, “If American citizens truly cared about beating China when it counts, they would stop buying at Walmart and Target . The USA Olympic team would also refuse to honor a sponsor’s decision to have team uniforms made offshore. It seems silly to fret about Chinese dominance in diving and canoeing when corporations are cutting deals that outsource American jobs to Guangzhou.” We loved watching the games but seriously, our uniforms made in China!
    First the Bay Bridge and now this…help.

  4. To give us some hope for the future, here is an article that tells how an American family is reshoring their North Carolina furniture company and American jobs:

    “Bruce Cochrane grew up in the world of a prosperous family-owned business, Cochrane Family Furniture in Lincolnton, North Carolina.

    The firm had been founded by Cochrane’s great-great grandfather in the 1850’s to make church pews, and by 1982 it had grown into a proud company that produced fine hardwood furniture and employed over a thousand people.

    ….But in 1996, Cochrane Family Furniture died when the Cochrane family sold the company to Chromecraft-Revington, which promptly moved furniture manufacturing operations from North Carolina to China.

    A 91 year old company, with a proud tradition of making fine hardwood furniture simply disappeared, and the fine furniture the company used to make was replaced by inferior quality furniture made overseas by people who had no idea what fine American furniture is, was, and used to be.

    Bruce Cochrane went to China too, as a consultant, but when he came back home he saw the workers lose their jobs and the factories abandoned and shuttered.

    It hurt so much, that he couldn’t even drive past the factory site.

    Too late, one man had realized that to most Americans free trade and globalization really mean losing your job.

    So Bruce Cochrane came back to Lincolnton, North Carolina, where he, Bruce Hric and Phillip Null started Lincolnton Furniture Company, Solid Wood, Made in America, Guaranteed for Life.

    To Bruce Cochrane, Lincolnton Furniture Company is “the continuance of the Cochrane family manufacturing and selling furniture for six generations.”

    Lincolnton Furniture began taking orders for its solid wood bedroom and dining furniture in October 2011 and made its first shipments to customers in January 2012, and they did it without receiving a single cent from the federal government.

    If you are interested in learning more about Lincolnton Furniture Company’s solid wood bedroom and dining furniture, contact Corey Decker, Lincolnton’s sales representative for the northeast: 585-943-3059.”

    Full Article: http://www.examiner.com/article/reshoring-american-jobs-one-company-at-a-time

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