Team USA's official, vilified cardigan
Sweater's manufacturers are proud of its Made-in-America label.
SANTA ANA, Calif. - It was almost as if someone declared, "Let the bashing begin."
Even as Team USA's Winter Olympic cardigans made their public debut - on the Today show Jan. 23 - pitchforks were raised. Twitter went off first, with references to ugly Christmas sweaters, Grandma's handiwork, and Bill Cosby. Fashion and sports bloggers expressed their dismay. And, finally, the mainstream media harrumphed.
"U.S. Olympic outfits worthy of stares, if not medals," read one headline in the New York Times.
"Olympic dress: Canada classy, U.S. tacky," read a headline in Canada's Wetaskiwin Times.
Yes, Team USA's official sweater is such that even Canadians went after it.
But in true you-can't-keep-America-down fashion (no pun intended), look who's grinning now.
Eddy and Elizabeth Park own and run the family-operated Ball of Cotton knitting factory in Commerce, Calif. And, intergalactic snark notwithstanding, they couldn't be prouder of the product they and about 50 employees painstakingly assembled.
"I saw the reviews on the Internet and I was surprised," said Elizabeth Park, 56. "Some people said they didn't like it.
"But anyway, that night, everything was sold out."
At $598 a pop, the non-critics voted with their credit cards.
Ball of Cotton is one of more than 40 vendors who helped put the Made-in-America label on all the Team USA outfits to be worn in Sochi, Russia.
Athletes marching in the opening-ceremony parade were dressed in white fleece pants, heavy black boots with red laces, knit flap-eared hats, and cream cotton turtleneck sweaters under the cardigan knitted at Ball of Cotton.
The Parks, Korean immigrants who became naturalized citizens decades ago, are helped by their two grown sons. The couple and their workers labored an average of 12 hours over each of the cardigans made for the 650 American athletes.
They aren't saying how many extras were made and sold online, but unconfirmed estimates run in the hundreds.
"I'm so proud of it because we did it here, in the U.S.A.," said Eddy Park, 61. "I think we have the best uniforms."
Polo Ralph Lauren, the official outfitter for Team USA, caught fire from pretty much everybody in 2012 when it was revealed that the outfits worn by American athletes for the Summer Olympics in London had been made in China. So this time around, American vendors got the job.
The cardigan sweater designed at Lauren headquarters in New York is intended to evoke a classic and patriotic look, and harks back to the patchwork quilts that are a distinctive part of Americana.
The red-white-and-blue sweaters feature a patchwork design of stars and stripes. And an American flag. And Olympic rings. And the letters USA, the numbers 2014 (in big, bold stitching), plus Ralph Lauren's "Polo" logo.
What naysayers call busy, Eddy Park sees as "colorful."
A few others agree. Fashion blogger and consultant Beth Jones, who favors unique and eccentric pieces, said she could see herself wearing the sweater styled with a white T-shirt underneath, a pair of distressed denim jeans, some boots, and maybe a beanie.
"It definitely has an element of the Christmas-sweater vibe, but the shape is awesome," said Jones, who lives in Tustin, Calif., and writes at bjonesstyle.com.
Ball of Cotton caters to high-end boutiques, mostly on the East Coast. Its work on the Olympic sweaters has earned the company a contract with Polo.
The Parks were surprised by a call from the Ralph Lauren company in August 2012, asking them to produce the cardigan and the reindeer-motif turtleneck sweater for the closing ceremony.
The wool came from a family-owned sheep farm in Oregon and was spun at a textile company in Nazareth, Pa., and dyed at a factory in North Carolina before making its way to Ball of Cotton.
Because there were multiple panels, the cardigans had to be put together by hand and by machine.
Eddy Park is much kinder to the cardigan critics than the critics have been to the folks who made them.
"Those people didn't understand how the job was done."
Elizabeth Park figures there are only two words that any American should be saying, whether they like the cardigans or not: "Go U.S.A.!"
BY THE NUMBERS
Clothing items designed for Team USA.
American athletes at Sochi Olympics.
Retail cost of Team USA cardigan.
Ball of Cotton employees who made Team USA sweaters.
Hours it took to assemble each cardigan.
Times Ralph Lauren has outfitted Team USA.
SOURCES: Ball of Cotton knitting company; Ralph Lauren; news wires