Between the Lines: It’s Election Year, Do You Know Where Your Clothes Are From?

ColumnConscious life, hear me roar.

It could have been when I listened to Nick Hahn, former CEO and co-founder of Cotton, Inc., a keynote speaker at a recent sustainable fashion event at FIT. It might have been when he told the audience that Monsanto may have made his company better and that the use of organic cotton wasn’t all that favorable. After all, regular cotton uses less water and with the impending water crisis well…we all have to pick our battles.

I had to determine which statement was more absurd. I looked around at the women I was surrounded by which included Ecouterre Managing Editor, Jasmin Malik Chua, EcoSalon writers Jessica Marati and Jennifer Barckley, Greta Eagan of GretaGuide, Rona Berg, Editor-in-Chief of Organic Spa magazine, representatives from Eileen Fisher, sustainability professors from FIT, Parsons and Pratt, not to mention a bevy of sustainable designers and fabric suppliers and I cringed.

Who could he be trying to sell his idea too and did he really think this platform was the proper place? We muttered under our breaths “What about the pesticides?,” “What about contaminating the water?,” and most popular, “What a bunch of horseshit.”

Still, people were listening and he might have planted his own genetically modified seed into the brains of some of the audience there. Later in the day, watching him sleepily nodding off in a corner, head on his chest, I had to ask myself again, who are these people running the show?

The next day I literally ran from a breakfast with the Eileen Fisher sustainability team – where we’d just talked about how eco fashion is very political – to meet Erica Wolf of Save the Garment Center who is also designer Nanette Lepore’s assistant.

“I am so slammed,” she said over the phone as I picked up my pace nearing Midtown. “Have you heard what’s going on?”

“Nope. What have I missed?”

By the time I pushed the elevator button to bring me up to Nanette Lepore’s 5th floor studio, I had already passed ABC News outside on the street. Sweat covered and trying to fix myself in the elevator, I was greeted by a Fox News camera man and reporter who were just leaving the studio.

“Sit down there,” Erica whispered pointing to a corner chair and covering the phone.

Here is where I learned of the Olympic uniforms being made in China. As a major supporter of Save the Garment Center, Lepore was on tap to tell the world just how possible it would have been to make that entire uniform in the U.S. After all, it’s the American team so why wouldn’t Ralph Lauren have thought of maybe just this once, taking his American inspirational brand and made it, well, truly American not faux American?

Still, there’s an issue that looms large and it’s this: why now. Why do so many Americans care about U.S. made clothing now? Because it’s the Olympics? Because it’s election year? What about all the other weeks of the year when U.S. consumers are shopping China-cheap buys at Walmart, Forever21 and H&M stores nationwide? Do YOU ever flip the label to see where your clothes are from? Let’s not get all righteous now unless we want to keep walking the talk.

With the Olympics starting in just 10 days, the entire Olympic committee, the athletes, and the entire United States of America now need to get their minds off of why weren’t those tacky Lauren-logo-emblazoned uniforms made here (really? That polo logo passed the committee?) and start backing all the athletes looking for a shot at their personal best. Those men and women waiting for their chance at a glory they have been waiting for since they were little kids swimming in public pools and racing their friends up and down the street.

“I’m so upset. I think the Olympic Committee should be ashamed of themselves,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Fox News reporters when asked about an ABC News report on the origin of the Ralph Lauren-designed uniforms.

“I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them,” Reid added.

Sitting there in Nanette Lepore’s office in the middle of a national pride beehive, I wondered if that topic would come up as I was told everything was pretty much off the record. Luckily it was not. But I knew somebody was going to suggest it at some point. Somewhere.
Burn the clothes? Why not learn from the mistake and move forward. Burning is to destroy valuable resources, the time and care made to create the uniforms and of course, it’s just plain stupid. What’s done is done.
This is only round one of the uniform saga though. We all know we’ll be getting commentary on them again as they parade in two Fridays from now. My only hope is that the athletes will focus on mom and dad cheering them on and we all get inundated with goosebumps.
That we cry and scream as they near finish lines clad in the American dream.

Between the Lines is a weekly column navigating the sometimes-sharp, sometimes-blurred lines of conscious life and culture between city and country, between inner worlds and outer.

 

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