by Rene A. Henry
The American apparel industry is a $250 billion a year market and 98 percent of clothing in the U.S. is now being manufactured in foreign countries. Colleges and universities, professional sports teams, private clubs and other organizations have an opportunity to change that and create jobs in this country.

 

            Unlike a typical retailer who competes with other retailers where price is the only consideration, alumni and fans are a captive market for sports apparel. There are many companies in the U.S. that offer competitive pricing for sports apparel. Thanks to ABC News I found the All American Clothing Co. in Arcanum, Ohio.

 

            According to its president, B. J. Nickol, who started the company with his parents in 2002, All American works with suppliers and partners in some 20 states and its products are 100 percent made in America. The cotton in some apparel can even be traced back to the farmer. “Our prices are competitive because we have lower marketing costs, eliminated a 100 or 200 percent markup by a middleman and have productive workers,” Nickol says. “With orders we could double our production.”

 

            He adds that rebuilding the apparel industry in this country will take time. “Because of NAFTA we lost 85 percent of the jobs in our industry. Today we have a skills gaps with the best sewers 50 years or older. We will need time to train a new labor force and it is all possible if the buyer commitment is there,” Nickol continued. His firm also can provide apparel with the union made label.

 

            Most colleges and universities, private clubs and even the U.S. Olympic Committee turn their license rights over to an agent for a fee and/or royalty who then approves licensees. A good friend who had one of the world’s most successful sports licensing, merchandising and branding companies told me the licensees have no concern where the product is manufactured. According to him they will take the easiest and fastest road to get the cheapest possible price and greatest markup without concern for working conditions or health, safety and environmental issues. I wonder if any college president has any idea where the school’s branded products are made

 

            All organizations that outsource their brand should monitor their licensees because any adverse customer service will impact the image and reputation of the licensor. Colleges and universities seem to be more prevalent than other institutions in allowing third parties to use their name for money.

 

            I recently bought two T-shirts and a cap from West Virginia University Mountaineers on Line assuming everything was in Morgantown and handled by WVU staff. I considered the website misleading because I later learned that the seller/licensee was a German-owned company in Jacksonville, Florida. I sought more information from the company and my email, phone and letter requests were ignored. The T-shirts were made in Honduras and the cap in Vietnam.

 

            According to Marsha Malone, who heads WVU’s trademark and licensing unit, there are 175 licensees and 665 retailers across the country selling WVU-branded apparel through its agent, IMG’s Collegiate Licensing Company. I believe the university has done well financially selling its apparel through licensees but I question whether it would not be equally as profitable if the apparel was made in America.

 

As I did research for this article I quickly found that most people did not want to discuss the made in American subject. When I asked “Why not have the apparel made in the U.S.?” politicians couldn’t have responded with more gobbledygook rhetoric. Mark Jones, a publicist at the U.S. Olympic Committee went so far as to write, “I’m sorry, but we’re not interested in participating in your story.”

 

However, Scott Blackmun, CEO of the USOC, asked Lisa Beard, his chief marketing officer, to respond and she was most helpful. She noted that several of the organization’s official suppliers and licensees had products made in the U.S. “Ralph Lauren personally decided that the uniforms worn by our athletes and delegation during the opening and closing ceremonies in both Sochi and Rio would be made in America,” said Beard. “And this was at a significant expense to his company.”

 

One USOC licensee that makes all its products in this country is WinCraft, Inc. in Winona, Minn. According to Dick Pope, CEO and chairman, the company manufactures 35 major product families that include flags, banners, pennants and other promotional products for businesses, more than 600 colleges, all professional sports teams and leagues, and most recently the world champion Chicago Cubs.  

 

“We buy all of raw materials from suppliers in the U.S. and finish the work in one of our six plants,” said Pope. WinCraft has four plants in Minnesota and one each in Woodinville, Wash. and Apopka, Fla. “We make 85 percent of our products in the U.S. and decorate the balance here.” The company also is proud of its green initiatives and annually recycles some 36 tons of scrap plastics as well as other materials. Its machinery and operations are all energy efficient. There is no reason at all anyone should buy an American flag not made in the U.S.

 

I first became involved with the USOC more than 60 years ago and as a volunteer have given the organization several thousand hours of time. For three years I served as assistant to the president and on a number of important committees. During the 1980s I was in Colorado Springs almost monthly. I believe that the USOC is one organization that should have all of its products and apparel made in the U.S., and especially T-shirts, jackets and sweatshirts emblazoned with USA and the American flag.

 

Rene A. Henry was born and lived in Charleston for his first 15 years. From 1954-1956 we was Sports Information Director at West Virginia University. He now lives in Seattle and has authored 10 books. His career includes more than 50 years internationally in public relations and sports marketing and five decades in sports at the Olympic, international, collegiate, professional and recreational level. As a volunteer he and his firm directed the international media campaign that led to the selection of Los Angeles as the site for the 1984 Olympic Games. Many of his articles are posted on his website at www.renehenry.com.