U.S. clothing manufacturers, it’s time to put in your bids to make the 2014 Winter Olympics team uniforms, designed by Ralph Lauren. Following the controversy over the U.S. Olympics Team uniforms being made in China, a CNN story reports that “Ralph Lauren has agreed to domestically manufacture Team USA’s apparel for Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games” according to USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. In his press release, Lauren stated that his company will “lead the conversation within our industry and our government addressing the issue of increasing manufacturing in the United States.” Given that there are already designers and companies that have been using U.S.A manufacturers, he seems a bit late to be claiming to lead a conversation.
I was a wee bit surprised when I read some of the on-line commentary accompanying an NPR story on the controversy. Some listeners did not seem aware that Lauren’s clothing – whose Polo line often features flag images or a red-white-and-blue color scheme – was not made in the United States. They actually have not been made in the U.S. for quite some time. As I mentioned in my previous post Label Love, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. textile mills and clothing manufacturing companies were gradually closed, as brands sought lower production costs overseas. If you were to search for vintage Ralph Lauren, you may find some 1980s garments with the “Made in the USA” label, but they become increasingly rare from the 1990s onwards. As it stands today, 98 percent of clothing purchased in the U.S. was made abroad. As ABC News demonstrated in Grand Central Station as part of their Made in America news series, if we all had to strip down to just those garments with the USA label, most of us would need to embrace a “clothing optional” lifestyle.
This isn’t the first time Ralph Lauren has designed the U.S. Olympic Team uniforms. And it’s not the first time they’ve been made outside of the U.S. Nor is it even the first time that Lauren-designed Team USA uniforms have sparked controversy (he has designed uniforms in the past where his Polo Pony logo was bigger than the Olympic Rings symbol). And apparently, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is giving him another shot for Winter 2014.
This got me to thinking….what if the USOC had not hired Lauren and instead sought companies already known for making garments made in the USA. Where could the USOC have turned? The name that immediately comes to mind for me (and to those who made comments on the NPR story) is American Apparel. Their clothing is made in the USA, they make sportswear, they design for both women and men, and like Lauren, they often use flag emblems on the clothing. Would Team USA, American Apparel style look like this?
Would the U.S. Olympic Committee go for American Apparel’s racy and/or casual looks?
What other companies manufacture clothing in the U.S.? There’s Carhartt, the maker of rugged clothing that is greatly appreciated by construction workers…and hipsters. If they were to make Team USA’s opening ceremonies uniforms, they would last for years.
Designing and making Team USA’s opening and closing ceremony uniforms could provide an opportunity for new U.S. companies like Imogene + Willie out of Nashville, Tennessee to show their clothing to a larger audience. It would give the Olympic team perhaps a more country western look:
And what if, instead of Ralph Lauren designing Team USA’s winter 2014 uniforms, we turned it over to Pendleton and their designers from their USA-made Portland Collection? How about one of their heritage prints in thick wool, in red, white or blue?
Or perhaps rather than featuring just one designer and company, Team USA could be outfitted by a stylist who would coordinate a look by seeking different elements from different USA companies. Pants by Cone Denim, ties by Pierrepont Hicks, and carrying bags by Duluth Pack.
Do you have a favorite Made in the USA maker that you think could make a great Team USA look?
– Nancy L Fischer