Ralph Lauren & Team USa Olympic Uniforms Made in China

Ralph Lauren Olympic Uniforms 2012 Made in China

The other day, my wife mentioned the launch of the Ralph Lauren Olympic uniforms to me, and I joked with her about the fact that they were probably made in Asia. A few days, later a number of people – including congress – seemed appalled by the fact that these uniforms were not manufactured in the US. Hence, I want to discuss this public uproar as well as the uniforms themselves.

Made in USA

Ralph Lauren Team USA with Collar Pin, Beret & Tie

Ralph Lauren Team USA with Collar Pin, Beret & Tie

Ralph Lauren White Nubuck Shoe Olympics 2012

Ralph Lauren White Nubuck Shoe Olympics 2012

Ralph Lauren Beret Olympic Uniform

Ralph Lauren Beret Olympic Uniform

Ralph Lauren 2012 Olympic Uniforms Made in China - Ryan Lochte

Ralph Lauren 2012 Olympic Uniforms Made in China – Ryan Lochte

I respect Ralph Lauren and what he has accomplished for menswear in the US. To many, he has become the epitome of American style, however within the last two decades, the company has certainly changed. While quite a few garments were once made in the US and sometimes England, production of the less expensive brands like Lauren and Polo has almost entirely shifted to Asia, while Black Label and Purple label items are almost exclusively made in Italy.

Team USA Olympic Uniforms by Ralph Lauren - Made in China

Team USA Olympic Uniforms by Ralph Lauren – Made in China

Many people associate high quality with a Made in Italy label, but not so much with a Made in China Label. As I pointed out before in my Made in the USA article, you can find good or bad things all over the world. Of course, the social, environmental and ethical standards are higher in some places than in others, but I have seen poor conditions in Italy and good conditions in Brazil (and vice versa). Also, I have seen blatant label fraud from big, reputable companies, in which goods made in Asia were labeled as being made in Europe to charge a higher price and provide the buyer with a feeling of moral responsibility – buyer beware.

Ralph Lauren Team USA Tie Olympics 2012

Ralph Lauren Team USA Tie Olympics 2012

One aspect that people often forget is where the materials come from. If the leathers or fabrics were dyed in Asia and the remains dumped in a river, the Made in the USA becomes rather hollow.

Now, I am all for local products and it is great to support the community, but for example there is no silk in this country and there are only a few American tanneries left. Other countries in Europe, Asia, South America and Africa have great craftsmen traditions in certain area. So, if they are able to produce a higher quality product under humane conditions, one should not discount it just by the fact it was made somewhere else.

The Reaction of Congress

Ralph Lauren Team USA Men's Uniform Olympics 2012

Ralph Lauren Team USA Men’s Uniform Olympics 2012

AP reported the other day that Republicans and Democrats alike were upset about the Lauren Made in Chinagarments. Supposedly, Harry Reid even suggested burning the garments. However, unlike in many other countries, the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded and and as such, they can choose their sponsor, who can then choose where the goods are produced. Apart from that though, it seemed to me like the general chorus was that  American athletes who represent the US and its people should wear uniforms made in the US. At first, that might seem quite legitimate. However, if you take a look at America’s trade deficit, and trade relations with China, you realize that in 2011 the US exported goods worth roughly $104 billion while they imported goods worth $399 billion.

Us Imports from China

Us Imports from China

Overall, the US has had a trade deficit ever since the late 1960’s, and only about 5% of the garments sold in the US are made there. So, if the Olympic athletes represent the US and the people, then it does not seem to be too far fetched that most of the garments should be made in China.

Ralph Lauren Double Breasted Blazer Team USA with Patch Pockets

Ralph Lauren Double Breasted Blazer Team USA with Patch Pockets

Overall, it may be a good way to think about the thousands of vacant manufacturing jobs in the US and the huge trade deficit. Personally, I think it would be good to have more things made locally – but people have to be willing to pay a premium price, and often they are not. In the current situation, the Olympic uniforms represent the current situation in the US quite well, do they not?

As a side note, I am sure that many of the enraged politicians wore at least one garment – if not all their garments – that was made in China while they expressed their dislike regarding the Ralph Lauren uniforms.

Team USA Pleated Trouser - Italian Wool, Made in China

Team USA Pleated Trouser – Italian Wool, Made in China

In any case, Ralph Lauren announced that future uniforms will be made in the US again – hopefully the quality won’t suffer. What do you think about the whole discussion? I am eager to learn what you have to say!

Ralph Lauren Olympic Uniforms 2012 For Men

US Baslketball Team Olympics Barcelona 1992

US Basketball Team Olympics Barcelona 1992

Some voices in press claimed that the athletes would look like yacht owners in their Ralph Lauren uniforms, while others considered them to be The 1%. In my opinion, the berets in combination with the double breasted blazer and white slacks bear a certain resemblance to military outfits. Overall, they look certainly more dapper than athletes in sweat pants, though I like that look. The color scheme is certainly US American and the white pants with white nubuck shoes and red soles is something American wore in the past. Personally, I am glad to see a collar pin in some of the outfits!  The double breasted blazer with its patch pockets gives the ensemble a slightly less formal character which is appropriate for the event. In the summer, cloth belt are a nice way to make things look more relaxed and hence, I find the overall look quite agreeable. Now let’s see what the athletes will actually wear!

14 replies
  1. thomas
    thomas says:

    I think you make a good point- two, actually- about the worldwide flow of goods. The assumption that goods produced in certain locations are automatically better or worse than those made elsewhere is not sensible if thought about carefully, and essentially provides a seemingly logical way of living out one’s biases. Obviously it makes sense to think things -should- be made in one’s own country from a patriotic point of view and from the point of view of national economic health, but you really encapsulate the issue when you observe, about future uniforms, that you hope the quality doesn’t suffer when they are produced domestically.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Thanks for your comment Thomas. I have seen good itmes coming out of the us but in terms of embroidery or leather goods, I have seen much better products from other nations. Maybe it is their heritage or attention to detail, or culture. It is just different. In the US, one is more likely to produce a million cars knowing that 100k will be returned, whereas in Japan, the traditional culture would dictate to much rather produce just 100 cars but each of them must be perfect and there will be 0 returns. Both is legitimate, it is just different. In regards to Ralph Lauren it is interesting to read all these comments of upset people and I think to myself:” Ralph Lauren has produced oversees for years, and nobody complained”. Just like the politicians, chances are that many items people do own in the US are of Chinese origin.

  2. Ahmed Sajeel
    Ahmed Sajeel says:

    A point well made. At the end of the day its business. And USA being the forebearer of Capatilism should also understand the fundamentals of “economies of scale” … and that resources only naturally get distributedand directed accordingly.

    China has proven itself to be the world capital of industrial production and let us so not confuse the issue. I was shocked to learn that some of the exorbitantly priced Swiss watches have their ‘Tourbillons” made in China, a technical marvel that the swiss still lead us to believe is all their own. In fact the biggest suppliers of automatic movements to the fabled swiss watch industry are not from the equally fabled Valley De Joux but Seiko and Casio of Japan … and yet the audacity of the prices they charge …

    And yes it is about expertise too … I associate a certain dream-like image with Ralph Lauren and I am pleased to find it in any of their articles, irrespective of where they are manufactured. Patriotism entirely aside, but the finest Ralph Lauren polo shirts that I have worn over the years; have been made in Pakistan.

  3. AlexG
    AlexG says:

    Contrary to other Olympic committees the US committee is funded privately since 1976 and as such I’m not sure the government, any political party or politician shouold have their say in this…

    However, what bothers me most is not the fact that the clothes are made in China but that the RL polo player is so ostentatiously visible on the jacket breast pocket.

  4. Benjy
    Benjy says:

    Some great insight and analysis! Much better than the usual hyperbole from politicians as usual. I’m not from the USA, but would have no problems with Olympians from my country wearing Chinese-made, or any other foreign made attire for that matter.One of the reasons why is that my country, like the USA, is made up of hard working immigrants who work their butts off day and night to make the most of their talents, be it business, art, or sport. Thus, it would be the epitome of hypocrisy to demand every single item on the athletes to Made in Wherever.

    Heck, RL Purple Label, one of the swankiest labels in all of RTW menswear, is Made in Italy! But ain’t nobody every questioned what Ralph Lauren represents!

  5. No Polo Joe
    No Polo Joe says:

    The uniform looks like a civilian military force, not a peaceful welcoming outfit to engender healthly commaraderie and sportsmanship.
    The Obama Youth ? (aka Americorp)

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      I don’t really agree with you here. Berets have often been part of Olympics outfits and uniforms will always make people look the same. Just because the military is doing that as well, I don’t think it is the same.

      • No Polo Joe
        No Polo Joe says:

        got nothing against Polo, but they could manufacture something less militant looking and just because our military have gone to berets doesn’t mean it is appropriate for an international gathering of althletes, I mean jokingly I said they should wear board shorts, golf shirts and flipflops with sunglasses, but that was to show the absolute opposite direction, meet somewhere in the middle, a classic american look, tan Chinos, Blue shirt, and a red tie for the guys red blues and a blue scarf for the ladies, with perhaps the tan slacks or skirt depending on how well they can pull of the look…. visors and sunglasses, on the front or back fo the head, depending on the time of day and style of the competitor, let individuals show their unique sense of style a bit, but with a range of options to choose

  6. Frank Morganti III
    Frank Morganti III says:

    Overall, the uniforms look very nice. And I think the article hits the nail on the head.

    What I find interesting is that when you pointed out the congress wearing clothing made in China while complaining.

    Look at Prince Chales, he wears his country’s clothing very well and so should our leaders.

    There aren’t too many left but I think a Senator whould look good in a Oxxford suit, Alden shoes, Brooks Brothers tie and Hamilton shirt from Houston very well. They have the money after all.

  7. Seamus
    Seamus says:

    All of the several dimensions of this matter are well represented by the comments here. The matter of the U.S. trade deficit and state of our economy in general probably are best left for deliberation in other fora.

    As to the matter of quality materials and workmanship in clothing–that discussion certainly belongs here at Gentleman’s Gazette and hopefully will continue to be explored in articles to come.

    The fact that the U.S. Olympic Team’s “presentation” uniform is of Chinese origin essentially is a non-issue if one considers that the athletic apparel our athletes will wear when actually performing in their events most probably are manufactured in countries other than the United States as well.

    So that gets us to the question of whether the Ralph Lauren uniform best represents and complements our athletes.

    My opinion here would be to ditch the beret (fast!) and substitute a white straw fedora with a narrow red-white-blue band (some would say that makes the entire ensemble too “Henley Regatta-esque”, I would say “spot on”).

    The Lauren polo horse on the blazer might well engender quips such as, “[T]he U.S. has sent over just one group, an incredibly large polo team”, but I don’t view this as a significant issue.

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