PHILADELPHIA (AP) — While lawmakers in Congress continue fuming about uniforms for the U.S. Olympic team being made in China, a Philadelphia company is looking forward to seeing its locally-made apparel being worn by American rowers.
Boathouse Sports is outfitting the men's and women's U.S. Olympic rowing teams for the Summer Games in London beginning later this month.
The company was founded in 1985 by John Strotbeck III, a rower in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics.
"The reality is that we can make stuff in this country, maybe not quite as cheaply, but there are benefits," he said. "The work we're doing for the athletes is almost custom tailored ... and we got a lot of input about what they wanted."
There's nothing new about U.S. Olympians wearing apparel made overseas— Strotbeck recalls wearing China-made gear when he was an Olympian. There was a similar political flap, too, when it was revealed before the 2008 Summer Games that Ralph Lauren's opening- and closing-ceremony uniforms for Team USA were made in China.
This year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called the move particularly egregious considering that the economic downturn has left hundreds of thousands of garment workers nationwide without jobs.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Friday urged the U.S. Olympic Committee to replace the Ralph Lauren ensembles with uniforms made in the America, and said Rochester, N.Y.-based suit maker Hickey Freeman was "ready, willing and able to lead the charge in producing American-made uniforms in time for the upcoming Olympic Ceremonies.
"It has become an issue every four years," Strotbeck said. "The difference today is the difference in the American psyche in general: People are starting to pay attention and realize that it's really important to make stuff in the U.S."
Boathouse Sports employs 300 people at its Philadelphia factory, making custom sports gear and selling it directly to high school and college teams. The company won the Olympic rowing team's contract from Nike two years ago.
"We do expect our apparel to be seen on the podium with one or two medals," Strotbeck said. "We're really excited."
It has outfitted Team USA's approximately 50 rowers, plus coaches and support staff, with clothing from one-piece rowing "unisuits" to fleece and all-weather jackets, pants and warm-up suits. The company also makes apparel for lacrosse, basketball, soccer, football, track and other sports for high schools and colleges nationwide.
Boathouse Sports was named for Philadelphia's iconic Boathouse Row.
A spokesman for President Barack Obama pointed out that the U.S. Olympic Committee is privately funded so uniforms are not a government matter. The spokesman added that the president does believe in the "high quality of American-made products ... and that includes American-made clothing."
The controversy should not distract from the hard work and preparation of the young athletes, spokesman Josh Earnest said.