Buying ethically produced clothing is a consideration that should be on our radar when we are in the market for something new. Purchasing clothing that is made well, while producing the least amount of pollution as possible and does not abuse labor, is a tenet of an ethically manufactured garment. However, if you are unfamiliar with what it takes to make a garment you may still be finding yourself questioning how to tell if that fabulous red knit dress in the window at your local boutique is made ethically.
At times it’s not easy to decipher what is and what is not produced with good intentions. There are, of course, many companies that work diligently to carry that moniker. Companies like Everlane, Cuyana, and Naadam are just a few brands whose collections have similar mission statements—producing classic styles sustainably.
But let’s get back to that fabulous red knit dress in the window. How do you know whether it is made ethically? There are a few things to look for that will clue you into how sustainably a garment is made.
The Real Price—It is not the rule that when something is expensive it is produced sustainably but if that something is so inexpensive that you find yourself scooping up a few just because the price is so cheap chances are the fabric is garbage and the sewers were not paid a fair wage. For example if that fabulous red dress is priced at $50 then it cost approximately $13* to make. The $13 accounts for freight, tariffs, taxes, pressing, packaging, fabric, notions, cutting, and sewing. In addition to marginalizing the workers, the conditions in factories that produce these wares are horrendous.
Let’s take Bangladesh as an example. Four million people work in the garment industry in Bangladesh where wages are as low as $68 a month. That amount is not nearly enough to live on even in an improvised country. such as Bangladesh.
These laborers typically work 10-18 hour days in brutal conditions—no bathroom breaks, no water breaks, and in even life-threatening conditions. Think about that the next time you see a made in Bangladesh label with a cheap price tag.
Made in USA—Just because your label states “Made in USA” is no guarantee that the people who made your garment were paid a living wage. According to an article in the LA Times, Behind a $13 Shirt, A $6-An-Hour Worker, “The U.S. Department of Labor investigated 77 Los Angeles garment factories from April through July of 2016 and found that workers were paid as little as $4 and an average of $7 an hour for 10-hour days spent sewing clothes for Forever 21, Ross, Dress for Less, and TJ Maxx.” It is humanly impossible for these sewers who are paid by the piece to make minimum wage. Think about that the next time you see a cheap garment with a Made in the USA label.
Fast Fashion—It would be easy to blame companies like H&M, Forever 21, Zara and many more for this problem. However, Fast Fashion companies would not have had their meteorite rise were it not for the consumer indulging in cheaply made disposable clothing. The consumer wants cheap fashion, so cheap in fact that quality is rarely a consideration.
In the Fast Fashion cycle clothing trends are meant to become irrelevant quickly creating a desire to purchase new trends and simply discard the ones rarely worn. The gross amounts of landfills from discarded clothing and the burning of inventory created due to the mass quantities of unsold inventories are a global environmental problem.
Americans dispose of 12.8 trillion tons of landfill annually. This is equivalent to 80 pounds of textiles for every man, woman and child living in the U.S. Keep in mind apparel is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil. The burning of unsold inventory is not just perpetuated by Fast Fashion outlets but luxury outlets as well (another story for another time). Remarkably, last year H&M found themselves with $4.3 billion worth of unsold inventory much of which was incinerated! Think about that the next time you shop without regard to a brand’s game plan.
If you think you can only afford to shop at stores which peddle fast fashion think again. There are so many options for shopping on a budget.
~Shop at secondhand stores. You will find treasures.
~Get to know well-made brands and sign up on their mailing list. You will receive emails for annual, semi-annual, and flash sales.
~Spend some time taking notice of how a garment is made. Here’s the short list of things to look for. Stay away from linings made in acetate, anything new that has the slightest amount of pilling, puckering in the seams (unless that is a detail of the design), and shoes or handbags where you can see the smallest amount of glue in between the seams.
~Do not shop at stores that have made their mark by producing fast fashion even if they carry items that were made at factories that adhere to humane labor practices. Simply put, these stores have promoted the abuse of labor and therefore do not deserve the benefit of profitability.
~Shop with companies that produce ethically. There are plenty which are moderately priced.
~Stop buying garbage because that’s all you think you can afford.
The cost of cheaply produced clothing has a high price tag. However, the high price we pay for those cheap garments won’t show up on your credit card. The huge cost is the damage to the environment—contaminated drinking water, polluted air, and the creation of colossal landfills, replete with tons of discarded clothing. But there is also a human cost . . .one that threatens the lives of people who are unable to live in a safe and healthy environment.
*The retail price of a garment is usually twice the wholesale price. The wholesale price is usually twice the actual physical cost. Keep in mind there are companies who claim to remove the middleman (wholesaler) in order to offer a lower price.
Eat well, laugh a lot, and stop buying garbage!