No surprise Team USA uniform was made in China

The United States team enjoys the atmosphere during the Olympic Village arrivals ahead of the London 2012 Olympics at the Olympic Park on July 26, 2012 in London, England. Commentator Rachel Weeks says U.S. clothing makers can't beat China on price but can on technological innovation.

Of course Ralph Lauren made the U.S. Olympic Team uniforms in China. Just count those blazers and berets with the little horses among the 98 percent of all clothing sold in this country that's made overseas.

For all our patriotism this Olympic year, the recent uniform dust-up seems to have done nothing to lift our collective amnesia about what globalization has done to the U.S. apparel industry.

Somewhere around 1980, other countries figured out they could make clothes more cheaply than America. Unfortunately, American manufacturers tried to outcompete their foreign rivals on price... and lost.

What we should have done all those years ago is acknowledge we couldn't compete on price. Instead, we should have upped the ante with a focus on design and quality.

Countries like Italy have always acted with the knowledge that price is not their competitive advantage. Instead, they've focused on tailor-made garments, premium fabrics, and fashion that speaks for itself.

So, what will it take for Ralph Lauren to bring our Olympic uniforms home?

For one thing, "Made in America" has got to make long term economic sense. The good news is China's cost advantage has been slipping because of rising fuel prices and higher wages among Chinese workers. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to get our business back. Quality and design will be key, but technology just might be the best trump card we've got. If we can figure out ways to bring technological innovation to the shop floor, we can boost manufacturing efficiencies. It's just one reason American-made socks are making a coming back.

We need our brightest entrepreneurs to roll up their sleeves, find what will make us stand out on the global stage, and sew it.

I've got to commend Ralph Lauren for reviving this much-needed conversation. In the meantime, let's root for Team USA -- no matter where their clothes were sewn.

About the author

Rachel Weeks is the founder and CEO of School House, a collegiate apparel in Durham, N.C.
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It is utterly amazing to me the utter lack of economic knowledge, especially contained in this, the listenership of Marketplace.

There are a few proven economic principles everyone here needs to realize before they even begin to broach the ridiculousness of complaining about U.S. Olympic uniforms being made in China.

One - trade benefits everyone. It doesn't matter whether or not y0u are the loser in the transaction, the fact that you participated in trade provides a net benefit.

Two - comparative and absolute advantages. China is and always will be better than America at making certain things. They have a logistical network we lack. (i.e. There is no national network of trains in the United States). Their harbors are larger, their factories more abundant, their labor force more numerous. Need an engineer? Much easier to find in China. Rare earth minerals? They got em! This is the economic reality. This is what we call absolute advantages. But, here is the beauty of economics, America has absolute advantages too! The United States has natural advantages in the fields of research and development, agriculture, and medicine to name a few. Baby formula? Let's manufacture it in the United States and export it to China. Soybeans? I hear American job creation.Pharmaceuticals and medical services? I would rather have a doctor from a nation that has been practicing modern medicine for more than 50 years, so would a Chinese person - U.S., check!

Protectionism always damages economic growth. America has a long history of destroying its economy in attempt to protect local jobs from foreign competition. The answer isn't to get more local, the answer, as economics teaches us, is to go more global.

Compete in the areas where we have advantages. Focus on creating jobs for Americans, not on protecting the ones we will inevitably lose. But that would require a population educated in economic principles, something that goes against the very fabric of our modern democracy.

Here is the warning. Before China it was Japan, after China it will be Brazil or India. In the end, we have a choice, be the inclusive, free, international, and exceptional nation we belief ourselves to be... or continue to watch our future disappear as we are very slowly supplanted on the world stage.

Never forget that when you point a finger to blame, three fingers point back at you. The problem isn't that American Olympic uniforms were made in China. The problem is that the American population is so ignorant they actually think other people making our clothes is a problem.

The comment was made that the games were of an international nature and that the sponsors were multinational companies and that it did not matter that the U.S. uniforms were made in China. I disagree. While the games are worldwide each country cheers for their athletes, so it only makes sense that each country’s uniforms should be made in the athlete’s country. This would be just another way to support the athletes and their countries pride. Whith that in mind let the games begin and go U.S.A
Generator Man

With all the talk about buying Made in America, the Made in America contest seeks to bring exposure to thousands of unique and interesting products being made all over the USA, and having the American public vote for their favorites.

By bringing attention to these products the American public will learn of their existence, which in turn leads to sales.

The big picture of the contest is to challenge the approximate 250 million adult Americans to consciously earmark just $100 from their yearly household budget on American made products instead of imported products.

Just think of it, 250 million people retargeting just $100 of their yearly spending on American made products would mean an extra $25 billion in extra sales per year.

What a boost this simple gesture would mean to all the people working and looking for work in America. The time has never been more important than now to promote and buy 'Made in the U.S.A!'"


I think the only thing that would keep jobs here at home would be a return to tariffs.

Rachel makes a point about Italy selling high-end fashion; but, high-end fashion is but a small part of the market. She also mentioned that corporations could become more competitive with high-technology, a.k.a. robots. Sure, that would bring company profits; but!, it would not lead to more jobs. Instead of shipping jobs overseas, we would just be funneling jobs to the machines.

I would argue that the assumption that we cannot compete on price is a fallacy. There are manufacturers here in the US that can and have produced clothes that are not only well made, but compare in price to anything made in china. Here's the open letter the CEO of Anderson-Little wrote in response to all the stories of the Olympic uniforms being made in China

Olympic Uniforms

I have been silent on this matter as I have wanted to read, listen and research the elements of this situation.

Allow me to clarify and simplify this matter with a practical answer devoid of politics, emotion or opinion in the first part. In the second part I will offer my opinion.


The uniforms in question are essentially Blue Blazers, a matter in which I have obvious personal expertise. A lot of 350 of these takes from delivery of fabric to availability for delivery 6 to 8 weeks total at our factory located in Florida. Fabric delivery takes 10 days for in-stock dyed and 30 days for custom dyed "grey goods".

Had I been asked, I would have been happy to make the garments for the team at my factory replete with the Polo branding and done it at wholesale as a courtesy to our team and to Mr. Lauren for whom I have the utmost respect. I would have used Lauren patterns, fabrics and all other specifications. i also would have signed a confidentiality agreement to avoid any encroachment of the Anderson-Little brand into Lauren's licensing deal with the Olympics. Further my Father would have consulted directly with Mr. Lauren to make sure he felt supported by someone with decades of experience.

Also, be aware that these athletes can be very, very tall, or very, very short or very muscular or bulky or very thin, so in essence you are running from 54 XL to 34 Short and everywhere in between and probably only a few in each size, so it's almost a custom order for the top and bottom end of the size scale. And you have both men's and women's.

All that being said, I can state for a fact that It would absolutely not have been more expensive to make this garment here. I do it every day.

They just never asked. They used their usual channels and this is based around a foreign production model. It's just that simple. Just business as usual.


My opinion:

Given the lead time involved in this and their overall business model, coupled with the foreign manufacture of the uniforms for many years, I doubt the issue ever even came up as to where to make them. They're at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong product. They misjudged the mood of the nation, underestimated the public reaction and failed to anticipate the public relations lightening rod this would become.

While I hate to see a class act like Lauren be dragged over hot coals for simply running his business, I do applaud the American public for finally getting the real message here. We have got to make things if we are ever going to bring growth and prosperity back to our economy. We need to return our national focus to manufacturing and reclaim our place in the word market with goods made here. A service economy will never provide growth or prosperity. That can only come from the creation of wealth through the production of goods. The service economy is a theory and it has not worked.

The problem is we have been told for so long that we can't do it, we, like Lauren don't even bother asking the question. Should we make it here?

That is why I took Anderson-Little back. That is why I make my product here. That is why my company has grown a minimum of 20% per year in the four years since my Father and I relaunched it.

We bothered to ask the question. Can we make it here and really compete. The answer was a resounding yes. And we were absolutely right.

Let me repeat. I opened a textile company in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression. TEXTILES. I make my garments here in America. My company is a success and has double digit growth and the economy has only marginally improved.

Not theory, not speculation, not financial folly. Empirical proof.

I hope this adds some insight into this debate and encourages and challenges people to ask the question--why aren't we just making it here?

And to Mr. Lauren I again say, I have the utmost respect for you sir and I regret to see your fine name being so reviled. Yes, it was a mistake, but we've all made them. I look forward to 2014 and let me know if my factory can be of any help to you. It'll be just between us ;)

Now, let's all get back to the real action which is the Olympics themselves. Let's cheer our team and glory in their triumphs, share their losses and admire their sportsmanship.

Let the games begin. I can't wait!

Scott Anderson
President, Anderson-Little

Great article. I am an American entrepreneur whose sleeves are rolled up. I have bright ideas about what to create to compete in the global marketplace. As soon as "somebody else makes that happen" I am ready to step in and take credit for it. USA! USA! USA!

Thank you Rachel Weeks for your insight. How to bring manufacturing (and jobs) back to the US is a conversation worth having. Our economy needs the return of this sector and the world needs the quality of American-made goods in the marketplace. Compare US quality to the substandard, lack of quality in Chinese goods that now flood the marketplace (some are even hazardous to health). On a recent visit to Milan, I saw many manufacturing facilities doing quite well economically and their countrymen supporting local industries. I agree with Ms Weeks that it is an opportune time for American manufacturing to reinvent itself, and our young people have the ingenuity to do it.

Outstanding analysis and comments by Rachel Weeks.

I hope Romney's agenda will live up to this if he replaces the current office holder who promotes entitlement over wisdom.

Hang on there for a minute.. Companies ARE little by little retunring some manufacturing to the USA. The cost of producing in places like China is slowly rising, though they still have the clear edge.

And, numerous clothing companies who do manufacture here in the USA spoke up two weeks ago stating that they can deliver the uniforms .... .NOW....

The issue just isn't the team's uniforms... The issue is the follow on business of producing official replicas worth from 1.2 to 1.9 billion with a B. That's a lot of jobs here in the USA.

But, as congress point out... this whole matter is of no real consequence....

ok... so in two years they will get it right... its a start... but they could have done better..

Ow.. it hurts my ears when people pronounce Ralph Lauren incorrectly. Just think Lauren - the female name - and it is easy to remember. As was mentioned on Kai's show last week, the designer and his team are from the US, and "the big value, is in the design, it’s in the distribution, the marketing. All of these are still located in the United States."

And what wonderful designs he has created for our athletes. Cheers!


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