ABC News broke the story this week that the Team USA uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren for the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics are “Made in China.” Diane Sawyer acted appropriately appalled, yesterday the BBC picked up the story and quoted several bipartisan lawmakers who are just simply disgusted. Fine, I get it. Clothing for the U.S. team should be made in the U.S. Great. But don’t act like this is the first time in American history you’ve ever looked at the tag on a piece of clothing and seen the words “Made in China.” The 2008 Ralph Lauren Olympic uniforms were also “Made in China.” Do you know how few clothing items are actually American made? How many consumer goods come from overseas? Almost everything we buy in this country comes from elsewhere! Even food.
And, get this: a census bureau report “revealed $3.6 million was spent on importing flags in 2011,” says the LA Times. We don’t even make our own flags.
You gotta love Harry Reid’s passionate response to the (privately funded) Olympic Committee’s fashion faux pas. He told the LA Times, “I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them. And start all over again. I hope they wear nothing but a singlet that says ‘USA’ on it painted by hand. We have people in America working in the textile industry who are desperate for jobs.” It’s fairly easy to find work clothes that have been Made in the USA: you know, jeans, Carhartt jackets, that sort of thing. But unless you love the shiny spandex sold at American Apparel, it’s very difficult to find fashion items made in this country.
Last summer, ABC World News produced a series called Made in America, which put together a lot of jaw-dropping statistics about American made goods and the U.S. job market. Here’s one, courtesy of AOL, “If the $46 billion that American college students spend on school stuff every year stayed in this country, ABC calculated, half a million more Americans would be employed.” And another: “Since October 2000, the U.S. lost 32 percent of its manufacturing jobs, which translates to 5.5 million layoffs.”
It has been said that Americans won’t want to pony up extra dollars to buy American-made products, and that may be true, 1) because we are addicted to inexpensive “throwaway fashion” as AOL puts it, and 2) because many of us can’t afford expensive things, hence the addiction to – as I like to call it – cheap shit. I’ve written before about how you get what you pay for (one way poor people get screwed is by trying to save on items like shoes), but AOL notes that there is an alternative here. Rather than asking consumers to pay even more for what is now a $100 pair of sneakers, manufacturers should be asked to eat the excess profit in order to bring manufacturing back to this country. So instead of making 5 times manufacturing cost, retailers make only double cost. Then everyone wins.