Ralph Lauren learned from its past mistakes and shifted production to the United States. But where is the official underwear of Team USA manufactured?
The Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are set for Friday, delayed about a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ralph Lauren will once again be outfitting Team USA for the opening and closing ceremonies, dressing America’s Olympic athletes in garments that are made with sustainability in mind — and Made in America, too.
You may recall that Ralph Lauren took a whole lot of heat back in 2012 when it put Team USA in clothing that was Made in China. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) famously told reporters that the “Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves… they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.”
Ralph Lauren learned from its 2012 mistake. In the years since, the iconic brand committed to making the garments for the opening and closing ceremonies stateside. As Ralph Lauren outlines on its website, more than 30 U.S.-based partners helped the brand manufacture the 2020 ceremony outfits, including companies like Roicom in El Paso, Texas, which manufactures the denim used in the garments, and Natural Fiber Welding in Peoria, Ill., a startup that uses “natural, sustainable materials” to make its line of performance products.
But now there’s a new Team USA designer on the scene. Kim Kardashian West announced a few weeks ago that her company SKIMS is the official underwear, loungewear and sleepwear designer for Team USA. (Olympic athletes work hard, but Kris Jenner works harder.)
We can’t remember a time when there was an official underwear maker for Team USA, but hey, it seems like at least some of the athletes appreciate it. And on the surface, there’s a lot to like about these SKIMS. The brand is aiming to be inclusive, and the products for the games come in a variety of sizes and skin-tone colors.
What is unclear: Where exactly the official Team USA SKIMS were manufactured.
When the news broke last month, AAM asked Kardashian West on Twitter where the SKIMS would be made, and Yahoo! was among the outlets that amplified the question. Kardashian West never clarified. I also sent a text message to SKIMS official customer service line, but have not received a full response as of the publication of this blog entry.
A little online sleuthing finds that the capsule collection isn’t yet available for purchase on the SKIMS website, and a quick perusal of the company’s other products shows that most are imported, although a specific country of origin isn’t listed. But back in 2019, Kardashian West faced controversy for manufacturing SKIMS in Turkey, given her Armenian heritage. In response, Kardashian West announced she would build a factory in Armenia.
So, it is looking more than likely that the SKIMS made for Team USA will be manufactured outside the United States. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the other clothing worn by specific athletes and teams will also be made abroad, and honestly it’s not surprising, given that around 95% of all clothing purchased in the United States is made overseas.
It isn’t surprising. But it is disappointing.
Sure, 95% of clothing is made abroad — but think about that other 5%. There are manufacturers and workers across the country who are making high-quality textiles right here in the United States. In fact, the U.S. textile industry and its supply chain employed more than 529,000 people in 2020, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations, which also estimates that every textile job supports three additional jobs.
These workers are the reasons why the brands who outfit America’s athletes should make their Olympic garments in the United States.
The Olympics provide an opportunity for the United States to showcase its top talent. Ralph Lauren was so roundly criticized in 2012 for manufacturing its patriotic-themed garments in China because it was such a missed opportunity to boost local production and support American workers during a particularly patriotic moment. If any Olympic outfit should be Made in the USA, it should be the one worn by our athletes as they march into the opening ceremonies, proudly waving the American flag.
SKIMS may be providing Team USA with the garments that will go underneath the Ralph Lauren ensembles, but SKIMS is still benefiting off of patriotism. The least the brand could do — along with other companies like Nike that are outfitting America’s Olympic athletes — is ensure that the garments worn by U.S. Olympic athletes are Made in America.
But there’s one more reason why I’m focusing on SKIMS: The Kardashians get this. Or at least they used to get this.
Khloe Kardashian, younger sister of Kim, has a clothing line called Good American. I repeat: Good American.
When the brand first launched, many of its jeans were manufactured in Los Angeles. In fact, Khloe Kardashian made a big deal about how the jeans were Made in USA. AAM praised Kardashian at the time, and we even reviewed the jeans here on the blog. In fact, we liked them!
But it now appears that Good American jeans are made abroad. While the country of origin for Good American products didn’t appear to be listed on the Good American site, retailer Nordstrom claimed these Good American jeans as Made in Turkey.
So, Khloe Kardashian took advantage of the name “Good American” to launch her product, but later on moved production abroad. To Turkey, the same country where her older sister faced criticism for making her products in.
But I digress. Back to the Olympics.
The designers and companies who get to design and produce garments worn by the U.S. Olympic Team are very lucky. It’s a prestigious honor, given the global importance of the Olympic games. And these designers get to showcase their clothes in front of billions of people across the world. There’s no amount of money that could match it in terms of advertising.
But with great privilege comes great responsibility. If clothing brands are going to benefit from the patriotism of the Olympic games, they also should do their part to support the American workers and companies who can make that clothing. Ralph Lauren seems to have figured that out; here’s hoping SKIMS gets the message, too.