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Why U.S. Olympians wear made-in-China uniforms

The delegation of USA enters during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympic on February 12, 2010.

The official Team USA beret for 2012, designed by Ralph Lauren.

Kai Ryssdal: In case you haven't seen the official outfits for the U.S. Olympic team yet, it's what's being called a soft-retro look. Red and navy ties, double-breasted jackets for the men. Blazers, cream-colored silk skirts for women. Berets, for some reason, but I digress. They'll have U.S.A. on the front, of course -- 'made in China' on the inside, though. And surprise, surprise: In election year Washington, that's what everyone's talking about. 

From Washington, Marketplace's Scott Tong reports.


Scott Tong: One by one, politicians marched to the microphone: Burn the imported clothes. Outrageous. Disastrous trade policy. Part of the back story, is Olympic teams in rich countries tend to rely on corporate multinational sponsors -- in this case Ralph Lauren.

Andrew Zimbalist at Smith College has written several books on sports and economics.

Andrew Zimbalist: In the advanced capitalist countries, where the private sector dominates, private funding is the rule.

And, remember, the Olympics are an international thing.

Zimbalist: To object to globalism also in the manufacturing of products that serve the Olympics seems ironic, to say the least.

As far as offshoring, clothing brands set sail from America long ago, but the profits tend to stay home, says Pietra Rivoli of Georgetown. She wrote "The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy."

Pietra Rivoli: The big value, it’s in the design, it’s in the distribution, the marketing. All of these are still located in the United States.

But given the political sensitivities, could Ralph Lauren have gone out of its way to make this batch of Olympic clothes in America?

Apparel analyst Adrienne Tennant is with Janney Capital.

Adrienne Tennant: There would have been a lot of things that would have needed to be overhauled, including the sourcing of the higher-end fabrics. Not really sure you would end up with exactly the precise quality.

Ooh, low-quality American stuff, and still, the outrage. Question is, will folks complain about foreign sponsors of the U.S. team, like Samsung and Omega? What about Greek yogurt?

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

The official Team USA beret for 2012, designed by Ralph Lauren.

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