It’s been quite a bit since I’ve done on of my “Spotlight” series posts – which again is a series of posts featuring brands, both large and small, that have that have a mission to create fashionable things of great quality and are Made in the USA for men, women, and children too.
So when an email about Born Free Hit my inbox recently, I was very intrigued to check it out. Coming as a vision of the Shopbop team where they explain
“Shopbop joined forces with Born Free, (led by John Megrue), Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg in conjunction with Amazon Fashion, MAC AIDS Fund and 22 leading women in fashion, in an effort to raise awareness and support for the elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission. The 22 top designers who have contributed to the collection are mothers themselves and therefore, strongly connected to this initiative.”
At first I thought to myself, it sounds great, but where is it made?! And SO surprised to see a majority of the items are in fact made in the USA, even when some of the collaborating brands themselves don’t manufacture in the USA. This was also delightful to read “the entire collection, including clothing and accessories for women and children, is based on prints from Wangechi Mutu, a celebrated Kenyan-born New York- based visual artist.” How awesome is that?! Let’s bring more things like this to fruition!
Many of the grown up looks come with a child version as well! I love the idea of this.
Hope you enjoyed Part 1 of this global fabrics series – lets keep going
When one thinks about wool, it’s easy to think about sheep, but many South American countries have been making their own fabrics of alpaca wool since the Incan era! Alpaca wool can be incredibly soft and the artisan abilities of the Peruvian people shearing, spinning, dying, and weaving alpaca yarn and introducing it to modern fashion – has blended ancient and modern fashions. This short video shows the handmade process that many individuals are creating textiles by hand to this day.
“For more than a decade, Alternative has gone to Peru to source the softest, most luxurious cotton in the world. This year, we sought to deepen our commitment and relationship with our partners in Peru by exploring the culture and heritage from which these rich cotton traditions hail. We documented our experience in a series of “Made in Peru” films, getting to know the artisans who shape these traditions, traversing the land and engaging in experiences and conversations that amounted to a truly unforgettable journey.”
Mexico had a long history of creating their own fabrics and textiles out of natural and local fibers, until the Spanish introduced wool and silk. A majority of Mexican people were still making their own fabrics and clothing up until mechanized looms were introduced during the Mexican Revolution. But because Mexico has a large native population, many have kept their native fabric and textile traditions alive. You see it thrive through embroidery and weaving, like in Otomi fabrics. This Wikipedia article actually has a really in depth review of Mexican textile history.This video is a museum collection of various types of embroidered clothing by indigenous Mexicans, it is beautiful to see the variations.
I love this video about the colorful tenangos embroidery BUT, beware the captions. The English translation was done poorly. Because I speak Spanish I understood what the woman was really saying. The captions are an oversimplified version of her explanation.
The scale of the African textile industry is HUGE, nothing I could completely cover in this post. Each country, and further, every region, has a rich history in creating traditional fabrics for a very long time – with the fabrics and patterns symbolizing many different things, from religions, tribes, social status, gender, and much more. It is also an industry that is threatened by the same globalization that has inundated other countries with cheap manufactured sweatshop goods. Used clothing sent to Africa at super discounted prices is threatening the African textile industry that cannot compete with the cheaply priced goods (both in and outside of their own country). So supporting the array of textiles and fabrics that are coming out of Africa with both African made clothing and brands using African-made fabrics, is ensuring that their traditional textile industry survives. This coalition for African cotton is attempting to ensure the sustainability of the industry within Africa.
I can show you a billion (more) videos about textiles in Africa alone – but I’ll share a few I found very interesting.
A video about fabrics and textiles and textiles from Ghana – most notably known for weaving, Kente cloth, and printing/dying patterns on fabrics.
A very short informational video about Kuba cloth from Congo
Another very short informational video about Mudcloth from Mali – this one is by a woman that sells African textiles out of store in California, but has lots of information regardless.
This video is actually a collection of photographs of a parade showcasing the many fabrics and fashionable styles of clothing that can be made from traditional and local fabrics. If you catch the very end of the video (you’ll have to pause it because the text goes by very fast) You’ll see how even the people of Cameroon are trying to put a big pause on imported second hand clothes that are impacting the textile industry across the country and continent.
Egypt has sustained many levels of making fabrics for a very long time. Where people were making linen fabrics out of flax since the time of the Ancient Egyptians. Here is a link to a great background to the history of fashion from Ancient Egypt. There is also a lot of fine cotton coming out of Egypt – especially to make bedding.
Our every day lives are surrounded by fabric historically originating from these islands, which found the necessity to create clothing that allowed them to survive the temperate climate. This industry is also under threat by global manufacturing that has turned these products that were once always done by hand, into mass manufactured goods from synthetic materials. The climates allows for an ideal environment that lets sheep, their food, but also other plant based textiles to thrive.
The quality of products was heavily guarded for a very long time by patents that prevented people from exporting or releasing the tools to create textiles – which meant that while many people will still using hand looms, people in Britain and other parts of the UK were already using machines to speed up the process but still release a quality product. Wool was the main textile for a very long time, until the mass introduction of cotton. Britain was importing cotton and creating products with it at an incredible level – often overproducing the cotton’s country of origin. Much like we see in China today. Watch this short presentation someone made about the history of wool in Britain.
Liberty of London has cemented itself as a heritage brand of Britain and the UK – whose cotton printed fabrics have been an ever present staple that has invaded the world. I tried to see and make sure that it’s made in Britain, and it seems so. Other writers give caution to buying things made with their fabric from their store and other retailers, which use the fabric but are made in other countries. This video by Liberty shows how they make their beautifully printed fabrics.
This video perfectly illustrates the same issues in the Made in the USA movement, but for made in the UK! They’re going through the same hurdles to keep traditions alive and the industry from being swallowed by the high street.
Watch this really cool and short video about the history of Tweed coming off this Scottish isle
I couldn’t find any good videos to share about Fair Isle knitting, but as the “isle” part of the name implies, it is a specific knitting technique that was created on one of Scotland’s islands. You can read more about it here.
Tartan, or plaid, fabrics are quintessential fabrics associated with this area. I love what this guy had to say in the video.
Linen fabrics, which are created from yarn made out of flax fibers, was traditionally known to come from Ireland. That is, until they too had their industry taken over by other countries that could produce it cheaper. The only video I could find that really explains anything interesting is this one – it’s a little old, and you really only need to watch the first half, but has some great information.
While Haute Couture is not for the every day person, watching how it’s made gives insight into an amazing world of delicate fabrics and craftsmanship that few can hold a candle to.
I used to love catching the Signe Chanel episodes a few years back. They were basically a behind the scenes look into the madness that ensued in the weeks and days leading up to the Haute Couture Chanel shows. You get to see what really happens in the sewing rooms, and the ladies were hilarious too.
I could certainly go on and on, as countries everywhere were always making their own fabrics. Wools from Australia, Canada, or Italy. Patterned fabrics from Scandinavia. Russian cotton and embroidery.
So the story sounds familiar in many different countries right? They make fabrics and dyes for a long time until they get their industry stolen and moved to another country producing it for less, or when consumers are attracted to cheaper products. Now, especially through the internet, we all have the ability to support the native textile industries of countries all over the world by shopping responsibly and being conscious consumers! Shopping Made in the USA is great, but branching out is sometimes necessary. It has taken me so long to put this post together, and I’ve watched every single video around two times to make sure I was posting something appropriate – that I’ve grown to see the whole industry with different eyes.
What I think needs to start happening, is that we need to start pushing companies to show us the faces of the people making our clothes. Show us where the fabric is coming from. Put details on the tag that have real information, instead of just telling me how to wash my garment. Give our clothes sense and meaning. When you learn the history of fabrics, it becomes more than just something to wear. You are wearing someones hard work, you are wearing someones history, weaved thread by thread so that you could make a fashion statement.
I apologize for the prolonged absence – I have been drowning in work related things, and with good reason, that I hope to share soon. This is a long post, and I’ve been working on it for the past three weeks doing research to put it all together.
While I’ve been on a Made in USA kick – I’m also not blind that clothing has been and will always be made around the world. People have been making clothing in their own countries for a very long time. What’s more, certain types of clothing or fabrics are primarily made in specific areas – so one type of fabric may be best known to come from a certain place, and getting it from that location means you’re getting the best quality.
In essence, it is not always “bad” to buy outside of the USA, but the conditions under which many people work in are not as easily scrutinized as they would in the US where wage and work place safety conditions are set. This doesn’t mean ALL people manufacturing outside of the US are working in bad conditions, nor does it mean ALL people manufacturing in the US are working in fantastic conditions. It is up to all of us to do research about the brands we support – a brand can manufacture outside the US and pay their workers fair wages and give them great conditions to work in – it does happen! BUT it’s not the bottom line, if we cannot see it, we can’t just believe someones truths without proof. So again, be a conscious buyer.
The USA is/was known for manufacturing certain things and certain brands – just because it says America in the brand name or because they’re classic American brands, doesn’t mean they’re made in the USA anymore. America has a history of growing and harvesting cotton (but surely not the only one.) So quality cotton made goods are well known to be from the US, they’re the 3rd largest producer of cotton right now.
Check out this video that has some information about the process
Think of how lots of the things you see made in the USA are usually cotton based! Here is a link to the Cotton Inc. website, they’re the ones that sponsor those commercials you’ll see on the TV promoting cotton! (you know, the fabric of our lives) This is also why denim production is HUGE is the US. Again, there are other countries that will make denim, but American made denim has won notoriety in quality for the last few decades again (you can read more about that here). This short video by Nylon magazine is a little old but shows you what the J Brand (my favorite made in the USA denim line) factory/warehouse process looks like! Read J Brand’s “about me” page to get some insights on how the brand creates their products (since their denim is almost always produced in the US, while their other clothing is typically made in other countries)
As you read further, you understand why you see items labeled “Made in USA from imported fabrics”
In spite of their reputation, there are many manufactured clothing goods that come out of China much better than other countries. China is the world’s largest producer of cashmere goods, essentially because it is the largest country in proximity to where cashmere is sourced. So it makes sense that the best cashmere products would be coming from there. Cashmere will also be produced in India and Pakistan, but they are not typically known/recognized in producing cashmere products on the scale that China is. Mongolia is the other country that is typically recognized right along side China in cashmere production. Check out this short video by company Everlane, about their sourcing/creation of cashmere in China (I believe it’s part of a series they have on YouTube.)
I own one cashmere sweater by brand TSE and have personally found them to have some of the highest quality cashmere sweaters available. Like Everlane, TSE is an American based company sourcing and producing their cashmere in China. Their FAQ page has some really insightful information -
“The finest fibers come from northwest China. Traditionally, a large portion of these fibers were shipped to Scotland and Italy because of their fine spinning and knitting capabilities. In recent years, however, Chinese factories have installed the most advanced spinning and knitting technologies allowing them to create superior cashmere.”
Another product with origins in China is silk! Silk and silkworms have been a lucrative industry of China for many centuries. While China is not the only place that makes silk anymore, because of the large scale in abilities to produce and manufacture, it remains one of the leaders of silk production. I found this short informational video with some historical facts about silk in China.
Japan is internationally recognized for fine silk fabrics for famous kimonos. And each kimono, being a pinnacle of beauty, delicacy, and art. Once China was producing silk, many other countries were also beginning to partake in its craft. And this website has a fantastic breakdown of the history of Japanese folk fabric production.
I am completely floored by the amazing detail that is put into this unique Japanse silk weaving method called Yuki-tsumugi. I don’t think I ever realized how intricate the whole process is. Definitely not fast fashion.
While it is easy to talk about the fine fabrics like silk, they have historically been reserved for the wealthy. This was also true in Japan, where the common people typically wore clothing made from hemp or leftover cotton. Because part of the country is plagued by colder weather, the cultivation of cotton there was nearly impossible for a long time. It wasn’t until more modern techniques of growing and processing cotton were introduced, that cotton based clothing were to be widely used, but still at a premium compared to other cheaper alternatives that were easier to grow. This is why Japanese fabrics known as boro are actually pieces or scraps of other fabrics sewn together. I love this candid conversation taped of what seems to be two Japanese textile historians – providing information about the traditional boro technique.
Also, the people working and creating cotton found that indigo dyes worked extremely well in this fabric for many reasons in aesthetics and culture. While that was significant historically, it goes perfectly well when recalling that many Japanese people are obsessed with creating and finding the best denim!
It seems as if many Southeast Asian countries have their own versions of similar textiles and prints, as you would see when nations historically share similar heritages. Ikat and batik fabrics are seen throughout the area, and are very famous in the Indonesian islands. This website here, is one like many, attempting to bring to light the preservation of traditional textiles and fabrics. These short videos show how ikat is becoming a contemporary staple all over the world, but breaking through in traditional clothing as well.
Batik is an extremely detailed fabric that involves painting wax patterns between the dyeing process as to create designs. It really is an art form that takes an extremely long time from start to finish. The patterns can somewhat be replicated on computer printed fabrics, but the detail given to one specific piece of fabric is certainly unique.
India has also been making cotton, linen, and silk goods for centuries, and is recognized world wide for their weaving industry. Their fabrics reflect wearability in the different climates across the large country. Craftsmen and artisans from India have prided themselves in the ability and industry they have created in handmade fabrics and clothing. There is a movement similar to the “Made in the USA” push, to keep traditional Indian textiles handmade in India and not let artisans lose their craft to machines! Sometimes I feel like people see some working conditions abroad and automatically think “sweatshop!” but it’s not always the case, I think they’re confusing the fact that many of these people are still using the same ancient looms or machines to keep manufacturing traditional.
A prime example of using the Indian textile industry in fashion right now is brand Ace & Jig – which you only have to see and know that they’re employing a different technique, uniquely Indian, than most other clothing we see! Their about page states
“…we wanted to create our own yarn-dye woven fabric. A fabric that could lead many lives, and tell many stories. We wanted to create effortless clothes where the fabric could speak for itself. Our search led us to India where we found our ideal manufacturer. Textile specialists for over twenty five years, our partner has an ancient hand loom on site where we can work with the weavers one on one. “
This is part 1 that focuses on Asian manufacturing. The next post will cover some of Latin America, Africa, and Europe! Stay tuned. But I’d love to hear your thoughts so far!
After a candid conversation about the topic with a friend – I’ve been VERY good about buying my new clothes only if it has been manufactured in the USA. Thrifting/second hand has been about 50/50. But what about your lingerie/undergarments? It is so easy to focus on clothing that you forget about where everything else is made! So I looked into finding some undergarment/underwear brands that create and manufacture in the US.
I found out about Only Hearts while window shopping a few weeks back. The prices aren’t significantly higher than what you might normally find at full price at some of the major stores like Victoria’s Secret. There also seems to be a good mix of functional and sexy pieces for a range of sizes. Shop online through their store or even Shopbop (who carries a large range of their intimates and sleep apparel too!) It seems that also select Anthropologie stores carry the brand too!
Hanky Panky is the kind of brand I wish I would see more of all over the US just as you would see a Victoria’s Secret in the mall. The pieces are comfy and cute. Many actual and online stores carry the brand. I’m rooting for them!
Flint and Tinder is a new to me brand that I’m very curious about. They make both women and men’s underwear, but also some men’s apparel. It appears as if it was a Kickstarter project that has grown really well!
Wow am I a glad I’ve discovered Between the Sheets! They seem to also have an awesome mix of functional and every day pieces but also something special if you’re looking for that! They seem to be stocked at several lingerie stores as well as online.
True Intimates is a brand I found while doing research for this post. They seem pricier than other brands, they are eco-friendly and committed to finding every shade of “nude” for all women. I think this brand is still growing and I’ll be watching to see where they go.
Hope you find this post useful but also as a reminder that shopping made in USA goes beyond our clothes we wear on the outside. If you know of any more underwear/lingerie brands that I may have missed, please let me know!
This past weekend I was able to attend the West Coast Craft show that came to San Francisco for the weekend! It featured booths for artisans and makers living or working out of the West Coast. So it was an interesting collection of materials!
It inspired me to start creating again – and I picked up this embroidery project I’ve been contemplating for just about forever. I’ll be sharing it very soon. Many times, local or US made products can’t compete with big name stores and the little people often fall out of business. Seeing people who are making things are who we should be supporting and seeking inspiration from to make our own things.
Onto the show!
I don’t remember the name of this woman’s booth, but she was making her own yarn out of wool from sheep she raised herself, to make these beautiful tapestries/blankets.
A booth full of beautiful and fun knitwear by KKIBO
Last but not least, the incredible booth, or should I say deli by Alite - making you a custom bag at their sandwich counter. You picked the parts and colors and they sewed it right then and there for you!
It was definitely one of the more handmade craft fairs I’ve gone to – lots of knitwear and naturally dyed textiles. So it’s interesting to see people getting back into these lost arts. Have you ever been to something like this?