The turmoil over America’s imported Olympic uniforms – which began Thursday on Capitol Hill – has now grown into a firestorm.
The Ralph Lauren-designed outfits, which every member of Team USA is slated to wear during the July 27 Opening Ceremony, were all made in China. That brought a chorus of criticism from both Republican and Democratic congressmen, including Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.
"This is the American team, for goodness sakes," he said. "They ought to be wearing uniforms made in America."
But NBC Chicago's investigative team has uncovered new information that shows that the controversy goes far beyond the athletes’ uniforms.
On the official website of the United States Olympic Committee -- www.teamusa.org -- fans can purchase anything from keychains and hats and mugs to glassware and doormats and baby clothes. But a study reveals that, like the uniforms, very few of these officially-sanctioned Team USA items were made in the United States.
Of the 345 items listed on the store as of Friday, only 30 were clearly listed as having been made in the United States. The clothing items, in particular, were virtually all foreign: 95 percent of the clothing items were listed as imported, with the rest giving no information about where they were made.
None of the clothing was listed as being made in the U.S.
"It’s a huge gaffe in terms of support for the United States," said John Greening, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University.
Greening said Team USA tarnished its brand by outsourcing items which could have been made here.
"It may not have been [made at] the lowest price, but it would have been at an acceptable price, and it would have been consistent in believing the things that ‘Brand USA’ stands for,” he said.
Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee, would not speak directly to the findings concerning the Team USA store items. In a pre-written statement, he attempted to minimize the growing controversy over the athletes’ uniforms for the opening ceremonies, saying the USOC is proud of its partnership with Ralph Lauren, which, he said, is "an iconic American company."
But others believe that simply begs the question.
Deborah Leydig owns Norton’s U.S.A., a store in Barrington, outside Chicago, where every one of the 2,000-plus products she sells is made in America.
"If you believe you have enough lead time, you can make anything in this country," she said.
Leydig pointed out that with volume comes power.
"So if I had a contract to dress the world in U.S. Olympic clothing, I can’t imagine how many people would be beating down my door to get that contract," she said.
And it’s not just the notion of patriotism, Leydes said. It also makes good business sense to give the buying public the opportunity to see United Sates athletes marching into the Olympic stadium -- and winning Olympic medals -- in American-made uniforms.
"I just can’t imagine a better feeling," she said. "And I think people would buy those products much more, once they know they were made here, because then they know they are supporting the American worker."
But at least in the case of the clothing for the London Olympics, American workmanship is nowhere in sight. A U.S.O.C. insider said it’s not just the outfits for the Opening Ceremonies that are foreign made.
In the words of the insider, "not one stitch of clothing issued to the athletes, either for competition or anything else in London," is made in the U.S.A.
In a statement released late Friday, Ralph Lauren made a commitment that uniforms made for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Games will be manufactured in the U.S.
NBC Chicago's team checked every one of the 345 items for sale Friday morning on "The Official Online Shop of the U.S. Olympic Team." They wanted to see how many items – all of which are officially sanctioned products of teamusa.org, according to store representatives – are made in the United States.
Here are the results:
- More than 95 percent of all clothing sold on TeamUSA’s website is imported.
- Not one piece of clothing sold on TeamUSA’s website is specified as being made in the USA.
- Overall, more than three-quarters of all items -- clothing, accessories, etc. -- are imported.
- Only 30 of the 345 items on Team USA’s website -- or less than nine percent -- specify that they are made in the United States – and none of that is clothing. They are things like bumper stickers and keychains.