Many Americans were appalled and politicians called for action as national news reported that USA Olympic outfits for the 2012 London Games are made in China. How this could possibly happen? After all, isn’t Ralph Lauren the same company that sponsors “The Stars Spangled Banner” display at the Smithsonian? This should not come as a shock since approximately 98% of all US clothing is imported. As of 2007, the U.S. textile and apparel-manufacturing sector has lost 1,001,100 jobs, a 65% loss of employment in the industry, since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in January 1994. It is estimated that 25% of the remaining industry will be gone by 2020.
This current uproar over foreign made clothing indicates that American Values are starting to be worn on our sleeve, literally. Now is the time for conversations about how we can reignite a traditional industry in America. To lead globally, sustainability is the competitive edge we need to start the resurgence of this sector.
In sports, this dialogue is starting to take shape. There are leaders in the outdoor clothing world with environmentally conscious agendas, such as The Green Sports Alliance. But being “green” is only as good as the jobs it creates for Americans. With unemployment for 18-29 year olds over 12%, young people especially need to see “green” as a job creation vehicle. We see “green” as a way to add value to our clothing, but in order to be a sustainable economy, domestic manufacturing must be part of the equation.
With the heavily debated Olympic Uniforms, sports has clearly emerged as a influential cultural medium in sustainability and American job creation, but music has equal opportunity to influence this sector of our economy. Both spectator events bring together large cross-demographical populations for one common purpose: to show their support through expression and attendance. Fashion plays a large part in categorizing one’s loyalty in both arenas. Whether 100,000 people gathering for a sport team or a band, clothing is a unique identifier of a person’s allegiance.
Music makes sense as a catalyst for change. Artists and musicians have been at the center of social reform in American society long before Elvis Presley and Berry Gordy’s records crossed racial boundaries in the 1950s. We now are faced with the opportunity to define our generation as leaders in sustainability and American job creation.
There are bright spots in the music business, merging these two ideals. A few examples include: D’Addario, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Reverb, and Taylor Guitars, all of whom are combining American-made products with sustainable practices and establishing themselves as leaders in the industry as a result.
Unlike sports apparel, which is tied to a monopoly of endorsement deals, clothing for musicians is less centralized. Artists have an active voice in what apparel their fans purchase. If the leaders in the music industry made a conscious effort to outfit their fans with an authentic canvas of American change, these ideals could become systemic.
The music industry has the potential to implement wide-scale change in their apparel programs immediately instead of waiting until the Winter Games of 2014 to ensure that our apparel, now perceived as indicator of American values, properly voices our domestic pride through reinvestment and innovation. If musicians hear this call to action, these ideals could be instilled in tour merchandise as early as Fall 2012.