“At a certain point it’s hard not to look at those prices and wonder, ‘How does any clothing company make money?’ But let’s be honest. You know the answer to that.” — John Oliver, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Ethical brands to know:
Despite increasing demand for transparency in fashion, as consumers struggle to understand where and how their clothing is produced, and what the environmental and human effects of their sartorial choices might be, for many of us, resisting trendy clothing at a low price is really hard. Sure, there are plenty of t-shirts that are “handmade” here in Brooklyn, but where was that cotton grown? Spun into yarn? Turned into fabric? Did the smiling artisan you’re chatting with cut and sew it, or did she just silkscreen a geometric design on it? It’s very difficult to figure out where, exactly, most clothing is made, and what the working conditions and labor practices are like, let alone the reverberations throughout the entire supply chain.
Most days it’s all too easy to just forget about sweatshops and labor laws. But April 24 is a day to remember.
Fashion Revolution Day is a response to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013 that killed 1,134 garment workers. It’s a yearly reminder to ask: Who made my clothes? Just as we’ve embraced farm-to-table eating and organic and local everything, the Fashion Revolution movement wants to bring a new level of transparency to the fashion industry by asking brands to reveal who grew their cotton, spun their threads, dyed their fabric and sewed everything together.
The good news is that there are brands that are already transparent, so you can shop ethically beyond buying second-hand clothing or making your own duds. Everlane has made waves in the industry by providing detailed information on their sourcing and factories, as well as providing information about the cost of every item, indicating how much of the price went toward materials, labor and transportation. In Brooklyn, Marlow Goods produces leather bags (and soon pants and other apparel) from hides that come from the animals that provide meat to the restaurants Marlow & Sons, Diner, Roman’s and Reynard. Karina Dresses are sewn and designed in New York City and in the Hudson Valley, by workers paid a living wage. Brooklyn Industries is working on a “dirt to shirt” supply chain for a line of tees produced from cotton grown, processed and sewn entirely on the East Coast. Here are a few more companies at the forefront of the “slow-fashion” movement, producing better quality, fair trade products, many at surprisingly competitive prices.
Zady This company is at the helm of the slow fashion movement, seeking to provide an antidote to the low quality of fast fashion, with clothing made in the United States, of lasting quality. Zady is a great resource for both basics, like sweaters made from a family-owned knitting mill, and trendy pieces, like stonewashed jeans. A pair of perfect fitting jeans ($218) by Kentucky-brand, Imogene & Willie, is made from denim sourced from one of the oldest and last remaining denim mills in the country.
Tonlé is a zero-waste brand that makes all of its garments in a factory in Cambodia, where the workers earn well over minimum wage, with benefits and extensive training. Nothing is made on an assembly line, and the garment workers and designers stand side by side in the production process. Not a single thread is thrown away, even the tiniest scraps get mixed with rice paper to make the hangtags. A zippy t-shirt dress will only set back you back $46.
Northern Grade This roving marketplace travels the United States in search for the best of American-made products. Right now only 2% of clothing is made in the U.S., with the rest being made overseas. After years of opening pop-up marketplaces across the country, they finally landed in downtown New York City, with a permanent brick-and-mortar store at 203 Front Street, South Street Seaport, Manhattan. They look for brands that may not be carried elsewhere, like Freenote Cloth, Rogue Territory and their own Brooklyn-inspired line, Pierrepont Hicks.
Made Fair Calling themselves “an ethical clothing store that doesn’t smell like patchouli,” this website invests in ethical small businesses and helps them to scale. Based in Cambodia and Denver, Colorado, they offer fashion forward clothing, shoes and jewelry that don’t look crunchy. An organic cotton and bamboo jersey tight fitting dress ($154.99) is perfect to pair with your wellies for festival season. Plus, it’s handmade and screenprinted in extremely limited quantities in London, so chances are no one else will be wearing the same thing.
Frank and Eileen Need a perfect chambray shirt? Or a plaid button down in a classic silhouette? Are you obsessed with a tailored fit? Frank and Eileen make perfectly shirts and shirt dresses woven from high quality Italian fabric that is made to last, and are manufactured in California. This 1960s inspired Paisley Denim shirt ($225) will reinvent your surf season.
The Tripty Project A good bag is hard to find. The Tripty Project blends traditional handicraft of Bangladesh with modern design for stylish and affordable bags and jackets that are made of organic and handstitched fabrics (including a pineapple and jute blend). Yarns are naturally dyed using marigold flower, native tree bark, onion peels, and other local fruits and plants. The Hira foldover clutch could be your warm weather special occasion bag ($35).
Krochet Kids Although the company has a misleading name (it sounds like kids’ clothes), it employs at risk women in Uganda and Peru. By training them in crochet and paying them a fair wage, the company creates opportunities for these women to provide for their families. More than 150 people are working, receiving education, and being mentored while creating beautiful basics for men, women and children. Plus, in terms of transparency, every item is signed by the person who made it. The Standard Tee ($20) should be a new staple in your wardrobe.
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