You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

October 14: Ralph Lauren

October 14, 2013

51337976GC007_laurenBillionaire fashion designer Ralph Lauren (Ralph Lifshitz) was born in the Bronx to Polish Jewish emigrés on this date in 1939. He changed his name, he told Oprah Winfrey in 2002, because his given name “has the word shit in it. When I was a kid, the other kids would make a lot of fun of me. . . . Then people said, ‘Did you change your name because you don’t want to be Jewish?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’” Lauren dropped out of Baruch College, served in the military for two years, and got his first big break as a necktie designer when Nieman Marcus ordered 100 dozen from him. In 1967 he opened his own necktie store in Manhattan and launched the “Polo” label; thirty years later, his company went public. Ralph Lauren also received contracts to create uniforms for the American Olympics teams -- which the company fulfilled with low-paid labor in China. According to Green America’s Responsible Shopping Guide, “Ralph Lauren has been accused of sourcing from sweatshops and pulling its business from factories where workers organized to demand higher wages. In addition, the company received extremely low marks for its lack of transparency of its supply chain from the Ethical Trading Action Group, was part of a lawsuit for using sweatshops in the U.S. territory of Saipan, and was sued for denying black employees the same pay and opportunities of white employees.” The company has also Photoshopped models to create sickly skinny standards of beauty. Today, Ralph Lauren, who controls a majority of the voting shares of his company with a special class of stock, is estimated to possess a fortune of more than $6 billion.

“I don’t design clothes, I design dreams.” —Ralph Lauren