Friday, April 2, 2010

Sustainable Fashion: Part I The Human Rights Issue

(Catherine Dress from San Fransisco's She-Bible)

The pajama tee shirt I am wearing as I write this, was made in China, it is 100% cotton - and it was bought for me as a souvenir in Italy. This is a shirt that was probably not made in a sustainable way. Most of my wardrobe is not, and it is a growing concern for me, for many reasons.

But what does it really mean to be sustainable? I have been reading through various sites and articles for a better part of the week, and I cannot seem to find one good, solid, cohesive definition of sustainability as it applies to fashion. It is too complicated an issue.

While the term 'sustainable fashion' is generally associated with idea of eco/green/organically grown clothing, and the concern of the fashion industry's environmental impact- it also applies to many other issues in the industry as well- Human Rights issues, Animal rights issues, social and economic issues. This makes sense as the fashion industry is such a huge economic power and has very far reach/global presence.

The human/workers rights issue is one that is very important to me. So I will start by sharing my thoughts on this issue first. It is appalling to me that any company would use sweatshop and child labor, but many do. I work in the human/worker's rights field and it is really important to me to support companies that provide good working conditions, a living wage, and other benefits to their employees. This is a lot easier said than done.

The information that companies put out about their own worker's rights compliance - is difficult to come across, and dicey at best. Many of the other sources from other human rights groups contradict each other on various reports about the same companies.

So I have decided to do more in-depth research about some of the places/brands I shop, and share what I find out about them regarding their fair labor practices, their commitment to the environment, and animal rights. I have an inordinate amount of items from Anthropologie, so that is where I will start(there is already bad news on that front). Stay tuned for that post! Then I will move on to J-Brand Jeans, and Cheap Monday.

Aside from researching more about the companies you buy from, here are some things that you can do to shop in way/or in places that follow fair labor practices.

Buy Fair Trade- Shop EQUITA has a large selection of Fair trade items.

Buy Used/Vintage- This is easy enough and I think that many of us already do this!

Buy Local/Locally Made - Look to see if there are any designers/ clothing companies in your local area that also
produce their clothes locally. What you find out may surprise you. One of my favorite clothing lines is made here in San Francisco! She-Bible I was really excited when I found that out.

Buy Independent- While yes, it can be expensive at times, small designers tend to make items in small batches, and it is easier to call and talk to someone about how and where their products are manufactured. Also, there are many designers on Etsy selling really great handmade items.

I know that for me, the first step to shopping in a way that supports sustainability is to be informed. I do not think, for me at least, that it will be possible to shop 100% sustainably for clothes - there are too many aspects and concerns that I think cannot be fully met, for example Levis does offer a green line of organic cotton jeans, but they have an awful record of fair labor practices. And, while there are companies that do put extreme effort into providing good conditions for their workers, they may not manufacture green items. It's tricky and I really feel the key is to be aware of what companies are doing and to then base your shopping decisions on the issues that you feel most passionately about. You may even be inspired to try to get your favorite clothing shops to change their policies.... hmm.

I would like to share about one company that seems to be doing things right. Maggie's Organics. I found out about them after spotting a pair of their organic tights on blogger Jesse.Anne.O - It's pretty amazing, they have been making items with organic materials since 1992, and they are the first apparel company to acquire Fair Labor Practices and Community Benefits certification. Read the article here.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.


  1. this post is so great! all of this is very important to me, and i almost exclusively buy thrift/vintage. too many brands today use sweatshops and pollute like crazy! i also think it's important to note that we buy too much in general! i know that i for one have a full closet, yet i still thrift shop... oh, i have so much more to say, and i should really do a blog post on this; it's so important!

    anyway, great blog! i'll surely stop by more often!

  2. Hi Leanne, thanks for reading- This is such a big issue and one that is very important for us all as young consumers. I am going to be breaking this down into several posts. If you post anythink you want me to link to let me know!

    I really appreciate your comment : )

  3. I agree with you 100%. Designers from smaller companies indeed do know more where and how their products are made, and it is the smaller companies that take this huge responsibility. please check out thehotlovemovement.com. we make our clothes sweatshop free with organic cotton. proceeds also go to areas in need of sustainability projects.