BROCKTON, Mass. — They go for the gold.
A cool billion dollars worth of licensed apparel will be sold before the Summer Games in Atlanta end Aug. 4, Olympics organizers say. And while domestic punch houses are glad to have the extra business, some say the financial windfall they expected isn’t materializing.
“I’m not only making more, I’m taking in less [money],” one embroiderer said, sighing. “People are making millions and millions of dollars on this, and they are not the embroiderers.”
Other embroiderers were less troubled, but all were trying to reconcile the value they bring to the Olympic garments they are embroidering with the monies they’re taking in for their work.
“If you are an embroiderer, you make your money on time,” said Chester Graham, owner of Go Pro, a Chamblee, Ga., firm where mostly caps and sweatshirts are embroidered. “You can only make so many pieces in so much time.”
At Go Pro, embroiderers, like the shoemaker’s elves, have been stitching long into the night to make sure that all those two million fans expected in Atlanta, and all those three and a half billion fans expected to watch the Games on TV, are properly outfitted with caps and sweatshirts.
“We’ve been stitching for five years,” Graham said.
The Olympics account for 30 percent of Go Pro’s 1995 business. They have added equipment to handle the extra business, but have not made heavy capital investments.
“The difference with the Olympics is you don’t want to go overboard because it’s a temporary thing,” Graham said.
Graham, however, said he hopes the equipment purchased for the Olympics will translate into a permanent increase in business. And those sentiments are echoed by other embroidery firms.
“We work for Sara Lee Corp. anyway,” said Terry Blackman of Four Seasons Screen Printing and Embroidery in Conway, S.C., referring to the 40 percent increase in business Sara Lee subsidiary Hanes has brought to his company. Four Seasons is stitching five or six different logos for Hanes.
Sara Lee is also the parent company of Champion, the licensee for the uniforms and apparel of the Olympic teams, said Julia Beard, assistant to Bob Hollander, director of licensing for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
Half of the billion dollars in retail apparel anticipated by ACOG will be produced by Sara Lee under the brands L’Eggs, Playtex, Coach Leather, Body Force and Champion Jog Bra, in addition to Champion and Hanes.
“We estimate half a billion in Olympic sales,” said Jeff Bliss, president and CEO of the Sara Lee Olympic Partnership, an organization formed to coordinate Sara Lee’s Olympic-licensed companies.
All of Sara Lee’s Olympic apparel will be either embroidered or screenprinted, Bliss said.
Embroidered designs on Olympic retail apparel include the Atlanta Olympic torch, a multicolor flame with a column and five Olympic rings; 30 sport pictograms depicting sports from archery to yachting; and, of course, the Olympic mascot Izzy, a blue flame cartoon character designed by Filo Roman, creator of The Simpsons.
“Izzy,” explained Darby Coker, director of communications and marketing for ACOG, warming to his subject, “was created by kids. He’s a member of a race of flame creatures who inhabit the Olympic torch.
He wants to be a member of the Olympic Games.”
Maybe part of Izzy’s problems in being accepted by the other Olympians, Coker concedes, is color discrimination. Izzy is blue. And even the kids who created the story on which the character is based rejected the original Izzy. They thought he wasn’t muscular enough.
But Izzy can’t be just any blue. The colors, even for thread, must be designated Olympic colors, chosen by Sara Lee, said Ole Prior, president of Gunold+Stickma, a manufacturer of threads, backings and adhesives for embroidery.
“We’ve seen a substantial increase [in sales] of the Olympic colors,” Prior said, estimating that “a couple of percent” of his company’s overall receipts are attributable to the Olympics for 1995.
Ken Parsons, spokesman for Hirsch International, distributor of embroidery machines for Tajima Industries and Brother, partially credits the games for higher sales at Hirsch.
“We’re lucky that the industry itself has been growing,” Parsons explains. “Our sales have increased about 54 percent over the last four years. That has a lot to do with larger demand and larger designs, but the Olympics certainly have helped.”
Still other embroiderers will be punching out Olympic flags and embroidering the leaf-patterned Olympic quilt.
“What’s a puncher?” asked one spokesperson for the ACOG.
A legitimate query from someone outside the industry and, yet, puncher is an insider’s word for embroiderer. But the question is telling — a lingering sentence somehow symbolizing the gulf that divides the organizers and the licensees from the embroiderers actually doing the stitching.
“All they care about is the lowest price,” moaned one puncher, who asked not to be named since his comments might affect his contracts. “In one past Olympics, the corporate licensed apparel was made in Mongolia because they just didn’t want to pay the few extra pennies that it costs to make it in the States. That’s the Olympics. That … just makes me sick.”
Bliss said he’s not happy about that either. Sara Lee, he says, has fought some rather desperate battles to keep garment work in the States and lost because consumers don’t want to pay any more for a hat.
“At what price a hat?” he mused. “It really is only a very small percentage of the purchase price that pays for the higher wages and benefits for workers. Sadly, it has been our experience that when the customer gets to the register, they don’t want to pay it. We have found that it doesn’t make a difference to consumers whether the hat is made here or overseas.”
“Not true,” said the unnamed embroiderer, who believes manufacturers would rather downplay where the garments are actually made.
Yet most of the licensed Olympics apparel is produced abroad, sources said frankly. “Is most of our stuff done overseas? Yes,” said Steve Raab, general manager of the Olympics division at Starter. “But so is everybody else’s.”
But for those concerned about the health of U.S. apparel making, embroidery is a bright spot. Most embroidery is still done here in the States.

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