Now, an American label, Hickey Freeman, has recognized opportunity in the fray and offered to make the uniforms right here in the good ol’ United States — and in just two weeks flat. That would please Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and her Democratic Senate colleagues from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, who introduced a bill late Friday that requires the U.S. Olympic Committee to outfit Olympic athletes in ceremonial uniforms “sewn or assembled in the United States.”
The fashion to’s and fro’s have hit a range of nerves: from uncertainties about our national identity in a country with no national dress to economic worries and basic patriotism. It’s true: Our athletes can’t parade in furry ushankas as the U.S.S.R did in 1980 or wear grass skirts and leis as the Marshall Islands did in 2008. But shouldn’t the men and women representing these 50 states showcase clothes made by somebody somewhere here?
Maybe Levi’s? (No, sadly, Levi’s closed its last U.S. plant in 2003.)
Although sportswear designer Lauren works with select manufacturers in the United States, most of his apparel is produced abroad. His high-end Purple Label is made in Italy. Few pieces are made in the States.
The designer has responded to the pressure of the controversy, vowing to produce uniforms in the United States for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“We have committed to producing the Opening and Closing ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States that will be worn for the 2014 Olympic Games,” the company said Friday in a statement, adding: “Ralph Lauren promises to lead the conversation within our industry and our government to address the issue to increase manufacturing in the United States.”
American designers such as Lauren choose whether they are beholden to the dollar-conscious American consumer or the unemployed American worker. It’s no secret that the cost of manufacturing locally is often more expensive than overseas. And in a climate in which Target partners with luxury designers and fast-fashion chains such as H&M and Forever 21 dominate the retail space, designers often choose to remain competitive by manufacturing abroad. The American Apparel and Footwear Association says that 98 percent of clothing sold in the United States is manufactured overseas.
But the debate over where the clothes were made highlights an ongoing employment tragedy, one with political ramifications for Election 2012: the loss of American manufacturing jobs. Last month, the manufacturing sector contracted for the first time since 2009, despite being the relatively bright spot in the American economy.