Yesterday marked four years since the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh claimed the lives of 1,132 garment industry workers when the factory building they were in collapsed. Brands like Zara, Walmart, Joe Fresh and The Children’s Place were all found to have been producing clothing at Rana Plaza.
Fashion Revolution Week, April 24-30 this year, is a movement to demand clearer supply chains and safer working conditions, and asking fashion brands for a greater commitment to cleaning up the production of clothing, which is one of the biggest industrial polluters in the global economy.
The truth is that there is enough clothing on the planet to keep us all warm and dry well into the future. Not participating in fast fashion by curbing your shopping habit, or hitting vintage and thrift stores is the best way to reduce waste. You can also shop with these ethical fashion companies that provide safe working conditions and living wages for workers.
Another tactic is to shop local.
New York City was once the capital of the garment industry, and it was also one of the centers of the workers rights movement, which was galvanized, in part, by the horrible tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The women, largely Jewish and Italian immigrants, working at Triangle were sewing a fast-fashion forerunner–the fitted, puffy-sleeved tops that were essential to the Gibson Girl look. Different century, same story as Rana Plaza.
Today, the fashion industry is still alive and well in New York City, but most off-the-rack pieces are constructed thousands of miles away in Vietnam, China and India. There are still a handful of garment factories in the city though, and increasingly young, quality-obsessed companies that sell primarily online or in pop-ups are producing New York-made garments that you can feel good about buying and wearing. As a rule they’re more expensive than your average Gap tee, but of course they are. They pay your neighbors a living wage. Here are a few of our favorites.
The Willary is a fit-centric, high-tech fabric loving company that makes pants that are equally at home on bike and in a boardroom. Founder Debbie Baer (full disclosure, she’s a friend) spent years coming up with perfect pocket proportions and two different fits–one for ladies with more sway in their sashay, and one for gals with slimmer hips. In addition to the pants ($198), The Willary also offers a sporty dress ($210), cozy-looking merino tops ($89) and a button down shirt ($118) with ingenious pocket placement (I own one of these and wear it constantly). Rumor has it that shorts and skirt are coming soon. All are sewn in Brooklyn, sizes 0-14.
In addition to launching a solo record and tour this year, Beth Ditto has a clothing line that proves that you don’t have to be a size 0 to make a statement. Beth Ditto herself has been doing that for years, but her clothes, in playful prints and excellent silhouettes, make her level of style accessible to the rest of us. Dresses start at around $200, but there’s a big sale right now. Sizes 14-26.
If you’re looking to invest in your pants game, these high waisted, wide leg jeans are insanely good looking, with a sultry, seventies, sailor on leave vibe. Made in New York from 14 oz Japanese denim, they have zero stretch and need some time to break in and conform to your particular body. At $325 in dark denim or white denim they’re pricy, but really, they are worth three pairs of those supposedly fancy, but made-in-China jeans we’ve all become accustomed to buying. Sizes 0-16.
These limited edition shirts from DotBk make menswear interesting. Sewn locally by skilled tailors, each collection is inspired by an idea or a business or a a pop culture reference. These are perfect if you want to keep your dollars local and you don’t want to be the guy wearing the same blue button down as every other guy in the office. Shirts start at $88. Sizes xs-xxl.
Okay, Karina Dresses are actually made in the Hudson Valley, but there was a time when the studio was in Bushwick. They come in tons of cuts and prints for all different body shapes and sizes, are machine washable, and never need ironing. I have a few hanging in my closet and I can attest that they are excellent for traveling since they take up almost no room, don’t wrinkle and dry quickly. I have a Karina skirt that I like to wear over padded bike shorts for long rides. Dresses are around $100, and there’s always a great sale section online, too. Sizes xs-xxl, depending on the style, which translates to about 0-22.
We wrote about Kirrin Finch last year, as part of a story about companies that design clothing for non-gender conforming folks. Their dapper button-down shirts come in tons of interesting prints, are available in long- and short-sleeve styles, and some are made from organic cotton, another important trend in ethical fashion. All their products, from bow ties to tee shirts are sewn in New York City. Sizes 2-18.