Aug 1, 2012

Lessons from the U.S. Olympic Uniform Scandal

Weeks before the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics, news media was abuzz with chatter about the uniforms that were to be worn by the American athletes.  The uniforms, meant to be symbolic of the United States and its values, were made in China.

In this time of economic crisis, this news came as a shock to many, including lawmakers and human rights advocates.  The fact that the uniforms, designed by American clothing designer Ralph Lauren, were not manufactured in the U.S.A seemed an insult to working Americans, who struggle daily to find jobs and make ends meet.

In response to the public outcry about the uniforms, the Ralph Lauren corporation has issued a statement promising to create 100% American-made uniforms for the opening and closing ceremonies of  the 2014 Olympic Games. 

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand offered her opinion on the subject, stating that “When America’s best athletes are representing our country on the world stage, we should be representing the best of American-made goods. The pride of our Olympic athletics goes hand in hand with the pride of American innovation and manufacturing. While I am disappointed our athletes will not be dressed head to toe in Made in the USA this year, I greatly appreciate the USOC and Ralph Lauren have heard our voices and worked to correct this mistake going forward. I look forward to cheering on Team USA.”

The uniforms bring to light a growing problem. In testimony before Congress last year, the American Apparel and Footwear Association said that 98% of all apparel and 99% of all footwear sold in the United States are manufactured abroad.  Additionally, according to the Labor Department, 10 years ago, there were more than 350,000 Americans employed by apparel manufacturers. Last month, that number was 147,300.

Even though most would agree that a major shift in manufacturing must take place to provide domestic jobs and income, not enough is being done. A "Make it in America" jobs bill was introduced by House Democrats in 2010, but the fact that the Olympic uniforms were not created here, when they easily could have been, shows just how much progress has been made: very little.  Many major corporations like the retail behemoth Walmart ship jobs overseas because they cannot resist the cheap labor and loose labor regulations. 

Although it is too late to change the Olympic uniforms for these summer games, at least in the future, the uniforms will be domestically produced.  The other good news is that people are willing to speak up about this issue, and hopefully they will be equally as proactive about helping America's entire textile industry.  To do your part, check out our list of American-made products and companies!


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