Far Too Little, Way Too Late: An Olympic Outrage

by: Roxanne Fequiere

July 18, 2012

When images of Team USA’s Ralph Lauren-designed Olympic uniforms began making the rounds in anticipation of this year’s opening ceremonies, most of the ensuing debate appeared to focus on sartorial quibbles, like the perceived anachronism of a double-breasted blazer. It wasn’t until ABC News revealed last week that the red, white, and blue uniforms had been made entirely in China that the tides of public opinion took a turn for the worst. However, disapproval was hardly confined to the realm of online forums and scathing blog posts. Members of Congress on both sides of the party line weighed in as well, condemning Ralph Lauren and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), ostensibly for failing to capitalize on an opportunity to showcase American-made wares to a global audience. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand even went so far as to introduce a bill that would require the privately funded USOC to procure domestically manufactured ceremonial uniforms for Team USA moving forward. Senator Harry Reid has received the lion’s share of recent media coverage for his bold assertion that the USOC “should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again,” just weeks before the games are to begin.

Ralph Lauren Team USA

If this sudden spate of Congressionally sanctioned indignation seems somewhat hyperbolic and misguided, that’s because it is. In recent years, outsourcing the production of clothing and textiles has become an established business practice for several American designers. According to the World Trade Organization, the US imported $80.1 billion of clothing (and an additional $22.5 billion in textiles) in 2005 alone. China has been the top clothing supplier to the States for eleven out of the seventeen years between 1990 and 2006. Americans’ closets are primarily stocked with apparel and accessories that are manufactured internationally, rendering Congress’ recent commentary hypocritical at best. Zeroing in on Team USA’s ceremonial uniforms while ignoring the economics that created and continue to perpetuate the fast fashion system is to imply that this is an issue that only becomes significant when the eyes of the world are watching. Worse, this approach fails to even execute this line of thinking properly. To date, none of the aforementioned members of Congress have offered opinions on how to remedy the issue of Olympic athletes performing in apparel, footwear, and athletic gear that has been manufactured all over the world.

Of course, such an uproar may prove beneficial if it serves as an impetus for a more holistic reconsideration of the real issues at hand. The power of public opinion has already gained a valuable foothold, with Ralph Lauren announcing on Friday that they would seek to “lead the conversation within our industry and our government addressing the issue of increasing manufacturing in the United States and …[produce] the Opening and Closing ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States…for the 2014 Olympic Games.” Perhaps some of that outrage can now be channeled into ensuring that more of the clothes worn by Americans on a daily basis are made in the USA as well.

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