Sportwear, Athleticwear, and Activewear
This third “report card” in this series will focus on sports and athletic wear brands.
There was a time when “athleticwear” wasn’t a thing, of course. If you wanted to work out, you’d get an old T-shirt and gym shorts. But as exercise became in vogue, so too did exercise outfits. Brands like Under Armour and Lululemon took off, partly because of the science behind their outfits that made workouts more efficient and comfortable, technologies such as moisture-wicking fabrics and thermal insulation. But of course largely because being seen working out soon became a fashion statement of its own.
How this list was made
I used the same list of the most popular clothing and footwear brands, as measured by YouGov polls as I used for the other lists.
For this list, I decided to focus on athleticwear brands that didn’t start as shoe companies. Of course that leaves out a bunch of footwear brands like Nike, Adidas, and Reebok, but you can check out that list for my complete reviews of their record of outsourcing to China. In most cases, the grades I gave them for footwear will apply to their sportswear products as well. Adidas gets a C+, Reebok gets a B, but supposedly “All American” companies like Nike and Converse get solid Fs.
Best Athletic Brands Not Made in China – Quick Ranking
1. Under Armour – A
Under Armour had once outsourced most of its production to China, but when the US government put tariffs in place in 2019, Under Armour stepped up its efforts to move manufacturing out of China. As of 2019 only about 15% of its products were sourced from China (affecting less than 10% of all the products coming into the US). Furthermore, they stated a goal of having only 7% of products sourced in China by 2023.
Spot-checking on Amazon confirms that they’re keeping to their word. These highly rated Women’s Shorts are made in Cambodia. This popular HeatGear Compression Long Sleeve T-Shirt is made in Jordan. Their iconic polo shirt is made in Vietnam. And then there’s the shirt that started it all–the Men’s Tech 2.0 Short-Sleeve T-Shirt (pictured here), which looks like it’s made either in Jordan or Nicaragua.
Back in 2017 they had attempted to start a Made in the USA line our of their Baltimore headquarters, but this seems to have largely been a publicity stunt (they produced only 2000 sports bras and leggings). They currently have a line of products called “Freedom” that feature designs with the American flag, but all of these appear to be imported (but at least these aren’t from China either).
Hints for avoiding made in China: You’re probably going to have a good chance of finding a product not made in China, but check the label if you can.
2. Champion – C+
Champion is the epitome of the All-American company. It was founded in 1919 in Rochester New York and pioneered the concept of the reverse weave sweatshirt, the hoodie, and eventually outfitted almost every college, as well as most NBA teams and NFL teams up to the mid 2000s. They were once owned by Sara Lee, who more or less ran them into the ground (not helped by the headwinds of other brands moving manufacturing to China and pouring millions into marketing). Since 2006 Champion was spun off and is now part of Hanes.
Champion is another one of those companies that’s a bit of an enigma. They seem to go completely out of their way to hide the country of origin. When I called their customer service line, the woman was completely unprepared for the question. She said “we have products made in the USA and imported”. When I asked for details she directed me to call their corporate line to ask for more details. When I dialed the number she gave me, it asked me to dial the extension of who in corporate I wanted to talk to (which of course the lady didn’t give me).
So, I had to do my own investigation. Looking at their Web site–they do mention that their Classic Jersey Tees, their Powerblend Sweats are made with US cotton (perhaps a subtle dig at competitors using Xinjiang cotton), but even these are not manufactured in the US and they don’t say where they are made.
Based on my own unscientific review, most of their most popular products I see are not made in China such as this Powerblend fleece pullover hoodie (made in Honduras or El Salvador), and this classic Jersey T-Shirt (made in Haiti, presumably from USA cotton). It seems foolish for them to NOT be touting the country of origin in their product copy when they seem to be avoiding China manufacturers. Seems like a big miss in terms of marketing. But then again, heaven knows they’ve made more than their share of marketing missteps in the past few decades.
So I’m going to give them an C+. If they’re really sticking to non-China manufacturers and if they’d just stop hiding that information, they’d get a solid A.
3. Wilson Sporting Goods – F
What happened to Wilson Sporting Goods serves as a tragic blueprint for how the Chinese Communist Party intends to subvert America.
Wilson Sporting Goods is synonymous with American sports. If you’ve played sports in America at any level, you’ve probably used a Wilson football, a Wilson baseball glove, a Wilson basketball, Wilson golf equipment, a Wilson soccer ball, Wilson tennis racquets, or Wilson volleyballs. Heck, even Tom Hanks’s buddy in Cast Away was named Wilson.
Wilson Sporting Goods is also an iconic American business success story. It began its life in 1913 as, of all things, a slaughterhouse company called the Ashland Manufacturing Company. It was the animal byproducts from these slaughterhouses that was used to create things like tennis racquet strings and leather goods. Today, they’re a powerhouse in sportswear and sports gear generating hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Wilson footballs are still made in America, in the same factory in Ohio that produced them since 1930. Since 2015 Wilson also owns Louisville Slugger, who still make some of their bats out of Louisville, Kentucky.
So far it all sounds great, right? But here’s where the story takes a very sad turn.
In March 1989, Amer Sports, based out of Finland, acquired Wilson Sporting Goods for $200 million. And then in 2019, a group of China-based investors acquired Amer Sports for $5.2 billion.
What does this mean? It means that a portion of every ball, bat, racquet, glove, shirt, and pants you buy from Wilson Sporting Goods goes to fund the Chinese Communist Party. Think about it–the government of China collects not just a hefty portion of every purchase in sales tax, they also collect huge amounts of income tax from every executive and investor in China.
And all of this happened while America was sleeping. If you ask anyone who uses Wilson equipment, or even the 1800 employees of Wilson Sporting Goods themselves, I wonder how many people know that they are 100% owned by China now.
Hints for avoiding made in China: Find a manufacturer who isn’t based in China and doesn’t make sporting gear or apparel in China. They’re getting harder and harder to find, but they exist.
4. Lululemon – C
Lululemon is another one of those brands that defy explanation, since they choose to obfuscate most of their country of origin information online.
According to the Motley Fool, as of 2019, 67% of Lululemon’s products were manufactured in China, with the remaining 33% made in the US, Canada, Israel, Taiwan, Indonesia, and India. However, posters on Reddit have stated that most of the products made in China are intended for sales in China. This is going to be another case where you just need to check the physical label to make sure you’re getting something not made in China.
But here’s where it’s clear how beholden Lululemon is to the China market. In April 2020, the full force of the Weibo mob came down on Lululemon, but it had nothing to do with the CCP-coordinated acts of revenge for companies that spoke up against abuse of Uyghurs. This was an unforced error by one of Lululemon’s art directors, who (on his personal account) posted a joke T-shirt design that made fun of the COVID virus coming from China.
If there’s one thing the Communist Youth League who is behind these Weibo mobs know how to do, it’s to rally everyone to grab their pitchforks and torches. And so thousands of people went onto Weibo and Twitter to demand that people boycott Lululemon. Lululemon quickly fired the art director who posted the joke and sent the groveling apology we’ve all gotten so used to.
Did this art director deserve to be fired? As someone of Chinese descent, I found his joke to be kind of dumb, but certainly not something to be fired over. And yet this demonstrates the power of the mob. American and Canadian brands are powerless to fight against this kind of intimidation and bullying, and so that results in the mob getting whatever they want; in this case, someone getting fired and the brand having to kowtow to them to avoid being shut out of their market.
As far as finding out how many products are made in China and being sold to the US market, that information was difficult to find. I waited on hold for more than an hour for a chat agent, only to be
Until they’re a little more clear in their country of origin online labeling, I’ll need to give them a “satisfactory” grade.
Hints for avoiding made in China: Go to a physical store and check the label. Avoid online sellers, who are likely to be counterfeiters.
5. Athleta – C+
Athleta is a brand that Gap created to try to compete with athleticwear companies like Lululemon.
Gap, the parent company of Athleta, has stated that their goal is to reduce dependency on China, pointing to the fact that they reduced the percentage of product from 25% to 21% from 2016-2019, and that in terms of their apparel business only 16% of products were made in China. But like other companies, it’s almost impossible to find which products are made where short of going to a store and checking the label. Reaching out to them online, was regrettably but not surprisingly unhelpful.
The big problem I’ve seen across many of these fashion and apparel companies isn’t so much that these brands can’t give me a straight answer when I ask them how many products are made in China–it’s that their customers aren’t demanding this answer from them. So many consumers have gotten used to just buying something online or off a shelf without checking a label. That’s what’s gotten us in this current mess.
I’ll take the Gap executive’s word that they’re trying to reduce reliance on China’s supply chain, but I hope it’s not too long before country of origin online becomes mandated.
Hints for avoiding made in China: Avoid buying online. Go to the store and check the label.
Do you know of other luxury brands not made in China worthy of mention here? Let us know in the comments!