What’s so Wrong about United States Outfits being “Made in China”?

Ralph Lauren's Olympic 2012 Collection

(Source: Screencap from RalphLauren.com)

A mere 13 days before the Olympic ceremony, Ralph Lauren and USOC face public outcry as America realizes the U.S. team outfits were “Made in China.” Berets, scarves, blazers, and skirts made a rather formal debut in the opening ceremony, much to the chagrin of many Americans.

My question is, what is so “Un-American” about clothes that were physically manufactured in another country? They were undoubtedly designed by Ralph Lauren, and despite all of the criticism on the look, it wasn’t as if they had taken input from any foreign companies. Many other countries have gone to the Olympics with foreign-made uniforms and are no worse for it. Yet brutal complaints assailed all of the social networking sites, demanding an immediate change, even proposing nakedness over touting such unpatriotic attire. Ralph Lauren has already complied by changing their methods for the upcoming Winter Games, but for some that is not enough.

It seems what most people are so upset about is the outsourcing. The United States is in a trade deficit with China, so why hire out to them when Americans face unemployment? I’ll tell you why.

Here’s a little Economics 101 tidbit you learn in high school history, from before the colonial era: countries used to base their economic worth on gathering as much bullion (gold) as possible and making every product themselves. Instead of shipping out gold for commodities, countries would rather focus on becoming self-dependent. For this example, let’s use France and say they were aiming on building up their own manufacturing in textiles despite the superiority of the nearby British. In reality it worked out horribly. French quality and priced clothes just couldn’t compete with the sheep-herding British and their cheaper wool, and the demand fell along with the market.

This system of mercantilism fails to hold up for many, many reasons, the best of which are highlighted in the essential read, Adam Smith’s On the Wealth of Nations. By shooting down the hackneyed and proven to be defective ways, Smith fathered classical economics, opening up the new ideas of a free trade-based economy that is essentially what America runs on today. While the entire debate and fine details are far more complex, this is the general gist.

As Adam Smith words it in his book,

“It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy…. If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own industry, employed in a way in which we have some advantage” (Smith, Wealth of Nations, 264-265).

Admittedly, I have never pursued Economics, and will not pretend to fully understand its workings, it is apparent that neither have many of the commenters. Outsourcing to places like China does not harm American industries, rather it benefits them. In the same way as the examples, Chinese factories offer quick and cheap labor that would cost the Americans much more to do themselves. America in turn can offer brand-quality, such as Nike and Coach that are bestsellers in China. Do the Chinese care they are paying such exorbitant prices for merchandise they have helped to produce locally and cheaply? No, because where it is made has no effect on the fact that the labels are American (or other foreign countries).

And about the design, all I can say is what else can you expect from a company famous for making polo shirts and tennis outfits? You asked for Ralph Lauren, and those berets and blazers are exactly the kind they have distributed before to Wimbledon tennis players. There is a lot more to being American than going bare-sleeved and casual, and that involves such things as being supportive of their athletes, whatever the gear. People would do well to honor that.

PS. If you don’t believe me, try this Forbes article.


  1. While I totally disagree with this writers logic in this instance of the olympics, the writer makes a very good argument.

    • Vida Shi says:

      Thank you for your comment! I understand that for the instance of the Olympics, Americans want to be represented as independent and patriotically as possible. I respect that. My issue is with the insulting of all things “made in China” that seems to be getting out of hand.

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