Made in the USA and humanitarian fashion : in the wake of the Bangladesh garment factory collapse

I think it would be rather irresponsible of me to not address the disastrous collapse of the garment manufacturing building in Bangladesh, especially now that the death toll has reached over 1000 people at the time I wrote this article (since the numbers have been steadily increasing). Is getting your cheap pair of pants (or whatever) really worth all these people dying? In 1911, the US had its own disaster known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in which 146 women died after a fire broke out in their building and they couldn’t escape after their employer had done many things to secure the building against theft. Our American workers were able to unionize and be vocal against bad conditions since then, why can’t people around the world have the same right? This really isn’t a guilt trip post though – because I have been guilty as everyone else in caving into fast fashion and these dirt cheap prices in the past. But I know I have the power in my hands to change that right now.

Knowledge is #golden

My blog is called Thrift Eye  for a reason – and by being very thrift focused, I remove myself one step from these unsustainable garment methods and consumption. The way I and many people see thrifting, it is a form of recycling. I can go buy  myself a brand new pair of pants from XYZ store at a really good price – but instead, I will probably buy myself a gently used pair at a fraction of a price, and probably of a better brand than what I would have bought new!

There are many benefits to thrifting and buying second hand. The first and obvious one is avoiding the consumerism that  pushes these awful working conditions on people making clothes around the world. The second benefit is saving money – buying used typically saves you a fraction of what you would have paid new (although I will admit many thrift stores have gotten very greedy and charge exorbitant prices sometimes higher than new things!) A third benefit is that buying second hand, you are saving countless things from being sent to landfills! Many people have things they need to get rid of and will often throw away things they don’t need anymore – donating and buying from thrift stores stops a large portion of these things from going to the garbage. A fourth benefit is that many (not all) thrift stores act as non-profit charities to some degree. Many have different ways they give back to their community, whether it be through hiring people in the rehabilitation process, donating to larger charities, giving jobs to the developmentally delayed, providing the very poor with clothes, or other charitable circumstances (I like supporting those that impact the community). The great thing about the thrift-life is that it doesn’t just have to apply to clothes, think of all the things you can get at a thrift store!

Here is a roundup of my favorite thrift inspired posts written by my own hands! Like my favorite places to thrift in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Or my other recent post about how to mend things you thrifted that may have had a little damage. This post on how to maximize your thrifting and why I enjoy thrifting. A great photographic roundup of all the amazing things I found at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Even a silly little post about the ridiculous kinds of things you find while you’re thrifting (like a really hilarious fake Louis Vuitton bag). Or this post about the bad/obsessive shopping habits the thrifting hunts brings out of you. Very soon, I’ll be working in a ‘my favorite thrift/secondhand fashion blogs’ type of post for your reading pleasure.

But the bigger picture really isn’t only about buying second hand – it also means supporting businesses that make their merchandise sustainably and humanely in the USA or (or in other countries if they can prove it! – remember, even some brands with the “Made in Italy” labels have been caught practicing bad fashion). You can buy new, there is no problem with that – but you have to realize that many brands make a huge effort to manufacture in the United States and pay their garment sewing employees livable wages so that they can work in comfortable conditions. The easiest way is to check your ‘Made In’ label – it will/should tell you where you garment was made obviously 🙂 but I have rounded up some brands that have made an effort to keep their brands and production (for the most part) in the US!

Edit: as of January 2013, I’ve gathered up all the Made in USA brands together at this page.

AG jeans
American Apparel – maybe you don’t agree with everything else surrounding the brand, but they keep it made in the USA
Anna Sui
Band of Outsiders
Brooks Brothers
Citizens of Humanity
Current Elliott
Earnest Sewn
Ella Moss
Graham & Spencer
James Perse – looks like almost all of it is made in the USA, the tees and tops are your best bet, check the label
Jason Wu
Lane Bryant – seems only some things are made in the USA, check the label
Nanette Lepore – but she has mentioned that she will outsource some things to China if the same quality is reflected
Nicole Miller
Rag & Bone
The Row
Steven Alan – can only vouch for S.A. items because the stores and website often sell other brands too
Three dots

Still there?! This is just what I was able to round up while I was able to figure out this post!

Sometimes and some of these brands can be expensive – there are people who can afford to buy these things new, some of us can’t. I like to look for things on sale just like the next person, but I often find some of these brands while thrifting too!

Remember you will always have some options like buying and wearing vintage clothing – or probably the best way to ensure your clothes come from a sustainable source, make it yourself! Many swapping outlets are popping up too (or start one yourself)!

This possibly is my goodbye letter to shopping for clothes at Target, H&m, Zara, Forever 21, and the likes (many of which I have not shopped at for years already!) When you shop at these types of places, you are enabling manufacturers and companies to keep wages low and conditions awful for these people working their asses off for your $5 shirt!

My post is an open conversation – PLEASE tell me about any more brands that are Made in the USA or if I got any of my information wrong! Tell me what you will do and change, or if you’re not changing anything at all too! Let’s figure out why it’s taken this tragedy to force companies to revisit their practices. As someone who blogs and enjoys fashion, this will be an ongoing conversation for me and I hope everyone else too. And as soon as my copy comes from the library, I will be reading Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline about this very subject!

  • Mai Le

    Hi Eli,

    Buying thrift store clothing has its own issues. (If you’re delving into the idea of fast fashion.) The fact that that secondary industry exists, gives consumers a mental pass for consuming more. As in, “Oh, I’ll just donate it to charity when I no longer need it” versus “I’ll mend it and hand it down until it is rags” thinking of ‘yore. I remember going to an art show a long time ago (forgot the artist) that addressed this issue of how by consuming at any level you’re contributing to the practice of fast fashion. Your rejection of fast fashion is to be applauded, but our consumer society can only really stop this practice by not consuming. A secondary market for the run-offs of fast fashion, unfortunately, still supports it. (Of course you could go all pre-1980s vintage and you will be able to dodge this problematic practice by wearing ILGWU clothes only. Though you’ll eventually have to figure something else out.) It’s an interesting thought and I hope there is more conversation about this issue about consumption, especially in the fashion blogging world. Cheers.

    • Eli

      I’m glad you brought this up! I thought about the idea too, because it’s something I personally preach even though it may not come across on the blog. I thrift, but I dont consume just cause it’s cheap, and I should have noted this better in what I wrote above. If you’re caving into buying lots of stuff at thrift stores too, you’re probably just going to dump the stuff eventually and create the same sort of problem!

      This is why I have been playing with the idea of organizing a swap or swaps in the near future! We need to be better consumers, and be smart about what we want vs need. So I appreciate your thoughts!! I’ll do a follow up post with ideas that came out of all of these discussions.

  • Here I was justing thinking, “Oh, this is interesting, but I wished she’d discuss the other options beyond just thrifting” when lo and behold you did!

    I actually don’t thrift much because until about four months ago the only thrifting options in town were church shops that only opened on things like “Thursdays 10-4” or some such. (4 or so thrift stores just opened in my town in the last four months. We are only about 5,000 people so that seems like a huge shift. Not sure why though.) I find the popularity of thrifting really interesting. On the one hand, as you say, it does stress “recycling” and the rise in its popularity is nice for those who really have to thrift for monetary reasons. Not so much stigma attached to it, but it is “cool” (especially great for high schoolers, though it was slower to catch on in my town…likely a lack of stores?! A girl in the team I coached though had fantastic style and she thrifted all her clothes. Sadly students made fun of her for some of her choices in clothing…). It is also nice that one can try a different style without breaking a bank. Allows for sartorial exploration. On the other hand, many of the items in these stores are the same cheap “fast fashion” items. As Mai Le above pointed out, in its own way thrifting just justifies the disposable consumerism by guising it under “charitible acts.” (That is why I liked that you pointed out it is good to look at the labels even when thrifting!) Additionally, the rise in the popularity of thrifting might also be contributing to the higher prices, and that can be especially bad for lower socio-economic families…All this isn’t to say I’m not going to thrift- I like thrifting when there are good stores about and like to try it when I travel (decidedly the four that opened in my town are NOT good ones. The items have wholes and are worn through to pieces often.)

    The blog “Of Corgis and Cocktails” has also been writing about similar topics (her blog post “Why I don’t Thrifting” and “Buying American Goods” would both be of interest to you, I think.) Those posts, and this one have really got me thinking more. For myself, I think I’m going to be trying to look at my closet more conciously as well as my general style to see what items I need and what are classics. Then invest in better quality (as well as items from America or out-of-country items made in ethical working conditions). I’m going to try anyway. There seems a lot to research and investiage in such endevours and that is why posts like this with all the links are so helpful! I also like the call to action to look at where items are made.

    • Eli

      Thank you for these amazing words! I should have done a better job about explaining that part of the job “you” have as a consumer is being smart and responsible EVEN at a thrift store! Buying tons of stuff just because it’s cheap at a thrift store is just as irresponsible as a person I read somewhere who hauled 8 pairs of shoes from Kmart cause they were on sale.

      Also, many of the Goodwill stores on the west coast (not sure about anywhere else as I can only vouch for the ones I have been to) sell Target deadstock – they buy it from Target at dirt cheap wholesale prices and then sell it back to us. Thrift stores have become secondary markets for mass retailers! It’s just as bad. So I’ve only scratched the surface! I’m intrigued about where all this will lead me and hopefully others.

  • Love this post and will include it in my weekly links round up. I have been thinking a lot about my shopping habits and the consumer practices of stores I spend money in. I love shopping second hand and see myself doing more of it in the future. Overdressed was an eye opening book as well!

    • Eli

      Which is why I’m glad to have read in another comment by Mai, that even thrift shopping means shopping responsibly! I can’t wait to read Overdressed, all the excerpts and reviews have been amazing.

  • Jes Ryzenberg

    This is a FANTASTIC and INSIGHTFUL! Thanks for the brand round-up and have started checking all of my labels — xx

    • Eli

      Gracias amiga, and thank you for sharing!!

  • Confused person

    I’m trying to think of what the rest of us who mainly shop at Target, Walmart, and Kohls and the rest are going to do? Some of these fast fashion companies cater to people like us who don’t live near places where you can buy cool or sustainable fashion!

    • Eli

      Hi there! It’s taken me a bit to think about how to respond to this – as a person who lives in a big city, I know I have advantages over some other people, I am grateful that I do get the opportunity to consume responsibly! Even so, I mainly thrift and buy second hand. I know many cities large and small have thrift stores. You can begin looking there. But I think a big thing too is that although we may feel small and with small voices, by asking large companies to change their practices, together we can make a difference in the lives of those people! I already saw some companies like Zara and H&m were signing on to advocate for the better treatment of foreign garment workers. It’s just awful that it takes a tragedy like this to do something. Just today I heard on the news that somewhere in Africa (I can’t remember which country right now) just had a shoe factory collapse there too!

  • I’ve only recently started caring about this issue, and the garment factory collapse has really hit me hard. I’m devoting my next post to this, and I wanted to just take a second to say that I appreciate your wisdom in the post and will be linking to it (partially so I can keep your list handy ha ha). Thanks! =)

    • Eli

      Glad to hear this Amber!!

  • Thanks for posting this Eli, I have been trying to shop more brands made in the USA and always keep an eye out for new ones. I admire you for swearing off fast fashion, and I wish I could say I would too, but I know I’d cave. Right now I’m just trying to be more conservative.

    And thrift! I love all the amazing things I’ve been able to procure secondhand though I’ll admit thrift stores have gotten a little greedy. A goodwill just opened in my town earlier this month so I went to check it out and found a coach outlet bag (zip tied to the wall) priced at $70. A nice, but not particularly expensive label suede jacket for $30, and a vintage looking silk beaded top for $20.

    I expect that at consignment shops, but not at goodwill!

    I’m also VERY upset to hear that things made in Italy could be just as bad as China. Seriously. As much as I love a label that says USA I love one that says Italy.

  • Just catching up on your blog this a.m. when I found this post. Thanks for addressing this topic! I have a similar list going on at my blog. I think the reader who made the previous comment makes an amazing point. Right now I am hardly doing any shopping because all my money and energy goes to my new baby, but when I do start shopping again, I have thought about being very meticulous about my purchases and only buying garments that I plan to wear forever, kind of like curating an art collection, only in my closet. It will take a while, but I would love to have a small closet in which each piece is beautiful, and that doesn’t exclude a little vintage or resale shopping at all 😉 Hello Vaunte! Anyway, Nanette Lepore, no bueno, most of her stuff is made in China now. The few pieces I have I bought resale and still bear the made in USA label. I have a James Pearse top I love, but I noticed mostly their tops are Made in USA. Jackets made in China. What about shoes? Have you heard of CYDWOQ or Sven clogs? I am giving away a pair of Made in USA clogs at my blog P.S. I love your “what I wear when I am in…” post. CUTE!

  • Eli

    I should have replied to you sooner but have had issues accessing my own site! Thank you so much for these kind and insightful words. And yes, even though some things may be made in the USA by one brand not all of it will be.

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