We live in the era of fast-fashion, where our favorite stores dish out the trendiest clothes in an instant. You can find an affordable sun dress at Forever 21, cheap shoes at H&M, and the perfect pair of jeans at Zara without having to spend a ton of money. And if you do want to splurge a bit, Urban Outfitters is just around the corner and they have some seriously cute bralettes, right?
But here’s an uncomfortable truth: the clothes that you’re currently wearing were probably made in an overseas sweat shop. A child might have assembled the buttons on your pants, someone’s mom or dad stitched your shirt for hardly any pay, and hundreds might have died in a factory fire while assembling your shoes. The stores that you love because they sell cute and affordable clothes are likely one of the biggest proponents of these sorts of awful working conditions because it’s a lot cheaper for companies to make clothes for the masses in countries with lax labor laws…and your money supports these exploitative practices.
I know, it’s hard to avoid taking part in an effed up system, and I’m not saying you and you alone are to blame for it thriving! Hell, most people cannot afford to have an entirely ethical wardrobe, because we’re not made of money. But it doesn’t hurt to pause, take a minute, and think about where your clothes come from (check out the documentary The True Cost on Netflix). If you do want to make sure that your closet is filled with clothes that don’t have a dark, beyond effed up past, you can take an extra step and start supporting companies with a more ethical slant. Check out 12 of them that are making a difference; a couple might already be surprisingly familiar to you.
“American Apparel” and “ethical” might not belong in the same sentence to those who know about the creepy practices of its former CEO. But when it comes to the production of American Apparel’s clothes, its sweatshop free model is definitely worth praise. All of its products are made in the United States–specifically in Los Angeles–and factory workers are actually given real wages and benefits. So while American Apparel is definitely more expensive than a store like Forever 21 or H&M, your dollars are helping folks put food on the table. Plus, American Apparel is great for basics like jeans, tops, dresses, and leggings.
Everlane is one of the more underrated ethical clothing companies out there, which is a bummer because their clothes are great. Everlane’s factory used to be located in the USA, but now their items are made in Chinese factories. Understandably, this might give you pause, but Everlane makes a point to vet every factory to meet its ethical and labor standards before working with them. They’ve even taken journalists with them on tours of the factories. This is just one element of Everlane’s transparency: The company goes into detail about the cost of labor of a given item and is open about how much they charge for it. The results? Items at a much lower cost than what its competitors would offer for a similar item. If your aesthetic leans towards a clean, minimalist look, definitely check them out.
Birdsong London is a feminist clothing company that sells clothing items and accessories from a select number of ethical brands. A hefty percentage of their profits–50 to 85 percent–goes back to the women who actually made the clothes, “from groups in Malawi to seamstresses on Brick Lane.” The company also emphasizes that they don’t alter photos with photoshop and that the only photographers are women, as to reduce any “male gaze” inspired photographs.
4. New Balance
In a world where Nike and Adidas are constantly on the chopping block for their awful sweat shop practices, I was shocked to discover that New Balance makes a large number of their shoes in the United States. And by a lot, I’m talking over four million units. If you want to feel a little less guilty about where your next pair of sneakers come from, buy a pair of New Balances.
Patagonia is very up front and transparent about the labor behind their outdoor-centric clothing and goods, assuring that they make sure that every factory that produces their products work by various labor codes. They even admit the failings of some of their attempts to make their products as ethically as possible. Well, honesty is the best policy, and this is a lot more information than most companies are willing to provide. If you’re the type who is ultra into nature, consider buying your next hiking look from Patagonia.
The Reformation is very proud of its ethical roots: Its “sustainable sewing factory” is located in Los Angeles and is in the same building as its corporate headquarters. Most part-time employees are paid above minimum wage and full-time manufactory staff receive health benefits. Reformation is also invested the environment and emphasize the importance of locally sourced goods, energy efficient facilities, and recycling.
7. LL Bean
Sure, L.L. Bean might not be the most appealing brand for you, but all of their products are made in the USA, unlike most brands these days. And to my surprise, they actually have a pretty solid selection of jeans. But this is definitely where you want to head if you need some sturdy hiking or winter boots, and you’ll rock them with a lot less guilt than those Steve Madden boots that might fall apart after a few months anyway.
Not a clothing company! But Lush still deserves to be on this list given its commitment to ethical production practices and transparency. They buy many of their ingredients from small-scale producers from around the world as opposed to exploitative mega-companies, they have a ton of campaigns in which a portion of your purchase supports charities (they have one right now regarding Syrian refugees), you can return your Lush packaging to the store for them to reuse, and they don’t test their products on animals. Their products even include a little sticker depicting the face of the person who assembled your lotion or face wash! And that’s just a little morsel of Lush’s code of ethics.
Unfortunately, the majority of Mod Cloth’s items are not exactly ethically sourced. But, if you love Mod Cloth to pieces, you should check out their Made In The USA section of their site if you want items that weren’t made in factories overseas.
10. People Tree
People Tree is all about free-trade resources for their sustainable clothes and accessories. Even when you explore the site, you can click on a link to see who made your clothes and how it was made. The clothes aren’t cheap, but they’re not out of this world expensive either. Definitely worth a splurge for a nice dress or skirt.
11. Hanky Panky
Are you an underwear addict? Are you also disgusted by sweatshop labor? Then you need to hand your money over to Hanky Panky, a lingerie brand that makes all of their clothing in the United States. If you have a thing for lace, you’re definitely in luck, because OMG lace galore…just check out their site for proof!
12. She Thinx
She Thinx is a company that sells period underwear. Yes, underwear you can wear during that time of the month that will actually absorb a whole lot of menstrual blood without leaving you feeling like you’re walking around in a wet diaper. Of course, you can just rock ’em as plain ol’ undies to. The undies are made in Sri Lanka at a family owned and operated factory that provides education and training services to its female employees.
Do you think about where your clothes came from? What other ethical shops/brands do you like? Tell us in the comments!