Patriotism When Politically Convenient

And Hypocrisy Over Olympic Games Apparel

Oh, what an election year can cause. Not that I’m for protecting our manufacturing industries when they can’t seem to protect themselves by being smarter and more innovative than those of the low-cost countries that have replaced them, including in apparel. It may have been inevitable anyway. However, I had to laugh at the hypocrisy of our politicians, and from both sides of the aisle, with their bombastic diatribes aimed at the Ralph Lauren company for having selected Chinese manufacturers to make the Olympics uniforms.

Why now? Where has all of this ire and political posturing been for the last half century as we idly stood by and watched China (primarily) take the apparel and textile manufacturing industries away from us? With one brief, “last gasp” effort in the 1980s led by Roger Milliken, then CEO of Milliken & Company, a leading textile manufacturer in South Carolina, a program called “Crafted With Pride in America” was launched to save those industries from being snapped up by so-called low-cost manufacturing countries. Without going into great detail, after several years and many billions of dollars later, the program collapsed under its own weight.

Simply put, consumers did not, and still do not, care where their apparel is made as long as they can pay the lowest possible price. Protecting jobs in this country? Forget about it. So, where was the political outrage then? Roger was able to drum up some enthusiasm among politicians, and some muffled grumbling could be heard. But, the non-caring consumers and the power of their pocketbooks in search of “bang for their buck” rendered the Milliken effort impotent.

So, why all the political bloviating now, when we know this is not an effort to claw back manufacturing, (an impossibility at best), and that it will make an insignificant impact on job creation, if at all? Well, it’s just that: political bloviating during an election year. It’s a convenient time, and the Olympics are  a meaningful event with which to gain press coverage for political gain.

And, not only is the hypocrisy audacious, some of the pols’ statements are downright stupid. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York said: “There is no compelling reason why all of the uniforms cannot be made here on U.S. soil at the same price, at better quality.” Does she not have a clue as to why we lost the whole manufacturing “enchilada” to China in the first place?

Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, said: “there is no reason why U.S. Olympic uniforms are not being manufactured in the U.S. This action on the part of the U.S. Olympic Committee is symbolic of a disastrous trade policy which has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs and must be changed.” Bernie, you don’t even have your facts straight. We didn’t lose whole industries because of trade policy. We lost them because of economics, period, and the almighty consumer’s preference, and our industries not being smart or innovative enough to figure out how to beat a low-cost strategy. So, good luck if you think you will bring those jobs back through trade policy.

What is wrong with these people, and how do they get voted into office?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, weighed in: “I am so upset. I think the Olympic Committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.” Okay Harry, you got good TV time for that one.

And, I guess the guy across the aisle, our esteemed House Speaker, John Boehner, R-Ohio, felt compelled to stick his two-cents worth into the rising cacophony, albeit a bit muted: “You’d think they’d know better.”

And, so it went: blah, blah, blah across the media. Selective patriotism, once again from the revered halls of our nation’s capitol, just emphasizes the hypocrisy that prevails. If not, then why are we not hearing tirades against all the apparel brands that are sourcing in China and have been for the last half century, and, why not against brands in other industries as well?

Looked at another way, if making apparel were an Olympic sport, China has been winning the “gold” for nearly 50 years, and continues to do so. And, no amount of jaw-boning will win it back for the U.S.

By the way, and some of you may already know this, due to the magnanimous donation of 13 million dollars by Ralph Lauren, the giant American flag that hangs in the National Museum of American History was restored.

I think that qualifies Mr. Lauren as a patriot, and not when politically convenient.

Robin Lewis About Robin Lewis

Robin Lewis has over forty years of strategic operating and consulting experience in the retail and related consumer products industries. He has held executive positions at DuPont, VF Corporation, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), and Goldman Sachs, among others, and has consulted for dozens of retail, consumer products and other companies. In addition to his role as CEO and Editorial Director of The Robin Report, he is a professor at the Graduate School of Professional Studies at The Fashion Institute of Technology.