I’m trying to understand the hoopla over the uniforms to be worn by the US Olympic team. It's come out that their clothes are made in China, and now people are pitching a fit. It’s an outrage! Inexcusable! Burn them! (the clothes, not the people) Politicians from both parties are delivering melodramatic speeches calling for drastic measures.
Here’s what I don’t get—the athletes represent their country as ambassadors of sorts, and don’t most of us wear clothes made in China or Sri Lanka or Bangladesh? The shirt I’m wearing as I type was made in India, my shoes were made in Brazil, and my pants were made in…that’s right…China.
I’m not a traitor to my country, and I haven’t abandoned the cause of the American labor force. I’m a typical American, buying clothes at typical stores at average prices, and finding American-made clothing is close to impossible.
I’m old enough to recall the days when most clothes were made in America—remember the Look for the Union Label commercials? And I remember being embarrassed to shop with my parents as more and more clothes were imported because my father, a Union Man, would read the labels and grumble about the pants or the shirts or the dresses being made in China or other foreign countries.
“Cheap junk! Every bit of it!” he’d shout to my horror. “Why, I wouldn’t give you two cents for that damned thing!” He’d fling the label and the shirt and the hanger back on the rack and stomp off, griping about how the cheap dye was hurting his lungs and how the loose threads wouldn't hold up to any kind of wear. And I would lower my gaze, afraid to make eye contact with anyone who might have heard the tirade.
It would be great if we still made clothes in this country and if clothing manufacturers, other than American Apparel, could or would compete with the international work force, but they can’t or they won’t. And we still need clothes. And we aren’t alone. Do you think the English or the French or the Russians only buy home-manufactured clothes? And do you think the Chinese don’t take advantage of a cheap African work force?
That our clothes and shoes are now mostly made overseas is a result of a free and open market place—capitalism. And what could be more American? All of a sudden our politicians are furious that Americans are wearing clothes from China. Aren't these the same people who voted for free trade agreements and who champion capitalism as the best and godliest way to run a country? I mean, did they even check the tags in their own clothes before they stepped before those hot mics to let loose with their very sincere anger?
If Americans mostly wear clothes made in other countries, I think our athletes should follow suit as representatives of how we live. And if we're now going to have an issue with imported clothing for them, then I think we should extend that outrage to the rest of us. Heck, let's all empty our closets and stoke a big fire.
In the interest of nostalgia: