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...

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[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.