Olympic gear sales strong despite flap over made-in-China pieces

The flap over made-in-China pieces in Canada's Summer Olympic apparel collection doesn't appear so far to have put a wrinkle in the Hudson's Bay Company's bottom line.

The flap over made-in-China pieces in Canada's Summer Olympic apparel collection doesn't appear so far to have put a wrinkle in the Hudson's Bay Company's bottom line.

One week after  the recently unveiled collection hit the shelves, HBC spokeswoman Patricia Pytel says sales have gone beyond expectations, adding that HBC has sold out of banner T-shirts in several sizes in many stores. The B-Tube, a multifunctional headgear piece, sold about 300 in the first day, which Pytel said is a "huge number."

The federal government and several opposition MPs were crying foul last week after learning that most of the uniforms being worn by Canadian athletes at the upcoming Summer Games in Beijing were made in China, not Canada.

But the collection has also raised eyebrows for another reason — its presentation of a more heavily graphic look compared to previous collections favouring a more traditional approach to the red and white.

Jason Neve, with Vancouver-based Boardroom Eco Apparel, a garment manufacturer and design company, said while it's a departure from the collegiate-style look of Roots, the previous Olympic outfitter, he believes it will grow on people.

"Although it is a little wild, it's kind of in line with what is happening in retail," he said. "If you go into a Quiksilver (surfwear apparel) store, you'll see shirts with bright pink graphics splashed across it."

Neve said while the pairing of a graphic tapestry print hoodie and matching pant will "look really great on television," he was unsure of how it would take with consumers.

"Whether the average person is actually going to wear that suit and walk down the street, I don't know."

HBC spokeswoman Hillary Marshall said the company has "had everything in terms of response from consumers" on the new line.

"The most interesting comments we have are those Canadians who say, 'Why be boring? Let's be loud and proud as a country,"' she said. "These designs really reflect that pride, that desire to capture the youth and energy of our athletes as they go into the Olympics.

"There are many Canadians who are happy to see something other than boring old varsity wear on their athletes."

Bamboo, organic cotton, cocona

The new eco-friendly clothing line is intended to help athletes cope with the excessive heat and humidity in Beijing, and comprises materials like bamboo, organic cotton and cocona, which is derived from coconut. HBC says such specialty fabrics are only readily available in Asia.

Marshall said the replica wear created for consumers is mainly made in China, as it has been in the past.

While 80 per cent of the uniforms provided to athletes are made in China, she said the clothing designed for the opening ceremonies and the medal podium are Canadian-made.

"We're incredibly sincere when we tell Canadians that this is a Canadian-designed collection made for Canadian athletes, it was shown to the Canadian athletes before it was manufactured and they loved it," she said.

Both Neve and Hipp applauded HBC's decision to adopt eco-friendly materials into the collection. Neve said the bulk of goods his company produces are sewn in Canada using fabrics purchased overseas, and said he would have liked to have seen HBC produce the line at home.

"It's very true that you're not going to get those fabrics anywhere else, but that's not really enough of a justification to actually bring the clothing over, because what we're talking about is jobs in the Canadian economy."