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Q&A with Alphonso McClendon: Olympic Fashion

July 30, 2012

Alphonso McClendon

Alphonso McClendon is an assistant professor in the fashion design program in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. With more than 15 years of fashion industry experience, McClendon joined the design and merchandising faculty at Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design in the fall of 2009 after more than a decade with Nautica, where he served as a director of product design.

DrexelNow recently checked in with McClendon to discuss fashion’s role in the 2012 Olympics and specifically the recent controversy over the Team USA opening ceremony clothing.

Recently, there was some controversy over the fact that Team USA’s ceremony outfits were made overseas. I understand you believe there is more to the story?

Earlier in July, controversy was stirred when an ABC World News report revealed that U.S. Olympic teams’ opening ceremony outfits were made in China by the Ralph Lauren Corporation. Newspapers and media outlets highlighted the debate, which reached a climax when members of Congress responded. The individual items are currently available for consumers on the Ralph Lauren website and are listed as imported.

What the whole argument is missing, though, is that it doesn’t look at the history of the fashion industry, which is a multinational industry. A large number of manufacturing jobs have left the United States. Just to give you an idea, the U.S. Department of Labor lists apparel manufacturing jobs in the U.S. at the start of 2012 at 150,000. In 1990, it was 930,000. This indicates an almost 84 percent decrease.

When you say a garment has been made overseas, that just means the actual sewing, assembly and finishing; you’re not acknowledging all of the employees who make the product happen and manage it through retail. You’re ignoring the designers, the production people, the sales and retail people. A garment’s label only lists where it was assembled— it’s unfair to ignore the other people who are instrumental in the lifecycle of the product.

Wasn’t there another topic of controversy besides the fact that the outfits were made in China?

The other debate was that the outfits included a beret; many people claimed that is not an iconic American style. Berets may not be as symbolic of America as, say, a cowboy hat or felt fedora, but berets did come into fashion in the U.S. in the 1930s and in the 1950s, when Dizzy Gillespie and the Beat Generation adopted the style, and in the 1980s, it came around again.

What are some of the trends the average person could look for in the 2012 Olympic uniforms, both the opening/ closing ceremony clothing and performance uniforms?

In 2012, we’re seeing a lot of bright colors, like aquas, limes and pinks; that’s because it’s the Summer Olympics. Those really bright and active blues, those are going to be trending. It’s all about being cheerful and energetic—when the economy is depressed, designers will bring in bright colors because it transforms the retail experience and stimulates the consumer.

The other thing is we’re seeing is a lot of graphic and print designs with abstract lines and large geometric shapes that are repeated and cropped. It’s reminiscent of the 80s but it’s more technical and modern.

Do Olympic fashion trends ever trickle down to the consumer?

When I was in the fashion industry, whenever the Olympics were happening, we would look and see what was trending. We would look at what graphic designs were used on tops, and what the swimmers were wearing. We were inspired by the design lines, the textures and the silhouettes and we would filter that into our collections. Olympic fashion trends and performance gear definitely do trickle down to the consumer.