Ralph Lauren’s Ultra-Patriotic, Made in the USA Uniforms More Than Make-Up for 2012 Gaffe


The Olympic Games aren’t just a global celebration of sport, but a branding parade. Sure, there’s the occasional guerilla marketing tactics at play, but you don’t have to look far to catch an eyefull of brand names and logos emblazoned on nearly every foot of the Olympic park—and its athletes.

So much competition (between brands, we mean) can certainly cloud the logic of executives and team reps when it comes to making some big decisions, and with the power of social media, none of it goes unnoticed. Consider the raging controversy that put Ralph Lauren in the spotlight during the 2012 London Summer Olympics when it was revealed that the Team USA opening ceremony uniforms were manufactured in China. One incensed member of Congress even suggested burning them.

According to the impartial Economic Impact Rating, the controversy could have been avoided, because, “It’s possible to be both ‘Made in the USA’ and profitable,” said Anthony Comito, creator of the rating service. But Team USA’s uniforms weren’t the only oxy-moron: China’s Olympic team actually sported uniforms designed by and prominently displaying the logo of the American company Nike despite being home to major sporting companies like Li-Ning. 

At least Ralph Lauren has learned its lesson. The Team USA uniforms revealed today for next month’s Winter Olympics were made in the USA, with wool from Oregon that was spun in Pennsylvania and North Carolina and knit in California.[more]

“We’ve learned a lot,” said David Lauren, EVP of global advertising, marketing and communications for the company, according to USA Today. “This is an important issue for many Americans and one we have fully embraced, and we want to continue to lead the way and find all kinds of vendors who can produce amazing products made in America.”

Well, one problem solved—but there’s another uniform controversy this year, and it’s more about taste than where the uniforms were manufactured. “Meet Team USA’s hideous uniforms,” wrote one Boston sports blogger. “Looks like the flag threw up on a sweater,” tweeted Monique Lamoreux, a 2010 US hockey silver medalist. Former gymnast Scott Bregman agreed: “Doubles as Ugly Xmas Sweater Party attire.”

The ultra-patriotic ensemble could be more positively described as “a patchwork of American iconography — of oversized stars and stripes and multicolored rings and names and numbers.” In fact, the design was inspired by the classic American patchwork quilt. 

Like them or not, Lauren made good on his promise and has made the new duds available for purchase, but they don’t come cheap: the cardigan is $598, the white fleece pants are $165, the reindeer hat is $95, the cotton belt is $75 and the black leather boots with red laces will set you back $395. On the positive side, 100 percent of sales from the clothing will be donated to the US Olympic Committee—which had its own run-in with the manufacturing critics.

To raise money for athletes attending the Winter Olympic Games, the US Olympic Committee decided to sell mittens that read “Go USA!” at $14 a pair. To make them affordable, however, the Committee decided to get them manufactured in—you guessed it—China, which is noted on the mitten label. The Committee “wanted to create a fundraising opportunity where almost anyone could support Team USA” a spokesperson said. The explanation didn’t keep the media firestorm from spreading, though. 

Indeed, it seems that national brands and public perception, especially that of the whole world, is still incredibly important to the general public. So who’s buying that sweater?