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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I have read the Pietra Rivoli book entitled: "The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy" and I understood a lot of things about globalism and international sales, it`s true that when "private sector dominates, private funding is the rule." When the managers from our facility wanted to buy uniforms I came with the idea to buy uniforms from http://www.uniformstoyou.com/healthcare.aspx, we should encourage buying products manufactured in US and to be honest, their quality is great.

I thought Eddie Bauer was making the gear but I see a lot of Ralph Lauren at the usa shop and other online stores. Is it even possible to buy the gear. I was able to purchase the hat and shirt for the Greece Olympics but I haven't been able to find what the team wore for Vancouver so far. regards, http://www.cgseniors.org/

Ralph Lauren is an idiot. His PR and marketing firm, if he has one, should be fired. Yeah, he could be like Nike and make his swooshed footwear in Asia, but he ought to have known that people were going to question the USA team outfits.

And it's not like that casual uniform is cheap either...the ensemble runs a couple grand. One hopes the "corporate sponsors" of the team pick up the cost of that swag and not the athletes, but that's not a given in today's world...especially for the less well off team federations like, say, track and field or badminton.

Ralph Lauren should have sourced the stuff in the USA with union labor, greenwashing the other 99% of his overpriced crap that's sourced in Asia like all clothing.

But today's gilded age elites are too dumb and greedy for that, like their patron saints, Mike Bloomberg, Donald Trump, Herman Cain and Mittens Rmoney.

Doonesbury got it right - capitalism is creating jobs in communist countries.

If the Olympics is all about globalism, why don't we just hire the best athletes no matter what country they are from? Oh, right, that's done all the time! And while we're at it, let's let the leaders in the obesity epidemic become the biggest sponsors.

"In the advanced capitalist countries, where the private sector dominates, private funding is the rule." This is a tautology. And ignorant. It says absolutely nothing, yet presumes to suggest that all countries where the private sector doominates are advanced. Not true. Most advanced countries, including our own, have (had) reached a higher degree of success and advancement precisely because the private sector (and high finance) was kicked to the curb a long time ago. They developed "mixed" economies, where democracy, public service, and public industy trumps for-profit greed. Trend toward corporate rule if you will, but don't try to rewrite history in the process. India is a great example of what you can expect from laisez-faire capitalism, limited government, and individual responsibility. I especially encourage travelers to check out Connaught Circle in New Delhi, where ten year old street children, too discouraged with life to even beg, lie on the sidewalk, black with filth, flopped out at 10 AM, waiting to die. Praying to die.

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