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Volume 20 No. 42


When news broke last year that Ralph Lauren made Team USA’s Olympic opening ceremony uniforms in China, the company was trashed on social media and blasted on Capitol Hill. It responded by pledging that the uniforms it supplies to athletes competing in the 2014 Sochi Games would be made in the United States.
But the company went several steps further.

The U.S. team marched in at London wearing uniforms made in China, prompting criticism.
It not only manufactured Team USA’s uniforms for Sochi’s opening and closing ceremonies in the U.S., but it also made the outfits entirely from U.S. fabrics. It did the same for its entire line of Team USA licensed product, which will be available at retail soon.

The effort forced Ralph Lauren to make changes to its manufacturing and sourcing process. For example, it found sheep for its wool sweaters in Oregon.

Ralph Lauren declined to make an executive available to discuss the changes. A company executive is expected to appear on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday to unveil the uniforms and talk about how the company overhauled its sourcing and manufacturing process.

Returning to NBC’s “Today” show to introduce the new, made-in-the-USA uniforms is fitting. It was there in July of 2012 that the company unveiled Team USA’s uniforms for the London Games.

A day later, ABC News, which competes with NBC, did a story on the fact that the labels in the uniform said “Made in China.” Congress latched onto the story. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the U.S. Olympic Committee should be “ashamed of themselves” and suggested the organization burn the uniforms and “start over again.”

Ralph Lauren initially declined to respond to the criticism, but it eventually released a statement saying it would manufacture future Team USA uniforms in the U.S. It added, “Ralph Lauren promises to lead the conversation within our industry and our government to address the issue to increase manufacturing in the United States.”

Securing a “Made in the USA” label is not easy. The Federal Trade Commission has guidelines for using the label that say that it should be reserved for a product that’s “all or virtually all” made in the U.S. That means that all of “significant parts and processing that go in the product must be of U.S. origin.” For apparel, that means that the fabric used must be from the U.S., as well.

Immediately after the London Games controversy, Ralph Lauren began working to find fabrics and manufacturers that would allow it to put a “Made in the USA” tag in its USOC-related apparel. That was the only effective way the company could avoid facing similar public and political criticism ahead of the Sochi Games, said Ann Wool, managing director of Ketchum Sports and Entertainment, which doesn’t work with Ralph Lauren but works with Olympic sponsors such as Procter & Gamble and Liberty Mutual.

“There are no other options that would give them this type of positive public perception,” Wool said. “Having a ‘Made in the USA’ tag inside a uniform is the right thing to have. It’s absolutely a good PR move. It may beg the question from an industry standpoint: What about the rest of production? But for Team USA merchandise and opening ceremony uniforms, it’s great.”