“Made in USA,” Ethical Shopping, and Slow Fashion

Pleione Pleat Back Woven Print Top | CorporetteJohn Oliver’s recent segment on Last Week Tonight, his HBO show, has brought “fast fashion” back into the news — two years after the horrifying Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 people. (The factory was linked to several well known U.S. and European clothing brands.) If you want to make ethical shopping choices, avoid contributing to sweatshop labor, and buy “Made in U.S.A.,” where do you start? Reader M wonders…

I am curious if you have written a post about domestic made corporate wear, shoes, handbags etc. I tried to search the blog but I didn’t find anything. I am very interested in having quality non-China made items. I love your blog and the helpful suggestions you offer.

It can be tough to find clothing and accessories that are made domestically — in other words, under U.S. labor and environmental laws. Of the clothing and shoes sold in this country, more than 97% is made overseas. In 1991, the figure was 44%.

We haven’t really covered this topic before (although commenters have been discussing it). This is the first in a series of posts about ethical shopping choices — we also plan to cover:

Made in the U.S.A. — Including “Slow Fashion” Brands

The phrase “Made in U.S.A.” is not as straightforward as you might expect. The FTC guidelines on proper labeling are lengthy and complicated — and, unfortunately, sweatshops operate in this country, too. For now, striving to be an ethical shopper means making do with the information you have, and doing what your budget and time allow. The smaller labels below are less likely to offer petite, tall, and plus sizes — and of course, the prices are higher (for good reason). That said, here are some companies that keep their production in the U.S.:

  • Arkins: All textiles used are 100% natural, and more than 80% are Certified Fair Trade. All clothing is produced in Arkins’ NYC studio, where “each piece is produced on a made-to-order basis to limit excess.”
  • Dobbin: All clothing is manufactured in the U.S. (in NYC) from European fabrics.
  • Zady: Zady’s tagline is “A Lifestyle Destination For Conscious Consumers,” but it’s not easy to find information on their production policies. Their new “Essentials Collection,” however, is entirely made in the U.S. Zady releases just one new Essentials item at a time, like this $36 organic-cotton t-shirt.
  • Oak73: This company produces its clothing and bags “responsibly” in the U.S., although some of it isn’t office-appropriate (too-short hemlines, etc.). This tweed jacket is $250.
  • Cuyana: As with Zady, it’s hard to find specifics about sourcing, etc., on Cuyana’s website, which sells clothing and accessories, but in its founder bio it mentions “intentional buying” and “empower[ing] local craftsmanship from around the world.” Again, not everything is work-appropriate, but some pieces are, like this U.S.A.-made silk tee for $155.
  • Of A KindSome pieces (all? again, it’s hard to tell) of the women’s, men’s, and kids’ clothing and accessories available (in limited quantities) through Of A Kind are made in the U.S., like this $117 Kordal bamboo/rayon top.
  • Bailey44All of this label’s clothing — some of which is acceptable officewear — is designed and made in Los Angeles, although this $180 L’Avventura dress is made of “imported fabric.”
  • Judith & CharlesWe slipped this one in here for our readers in Canada — 90% of its clothing and accessories — many work-appropriate — are made there. This ‘Zen’ jacket, made with Italian linen, is “tailored with love in Canada” and is $465.
  • Lesley Evers: Many of the pieces by this bright and colorful California-based line are too casual for workwear, but some are better bets, like this machine-washable, nylon-blend shell for $84.
  • Fair Indigo: Some of the women’s, kids’ and men’s clothing and gift items sold by Fair Indigo are imported, fair-trade pieces, and the rest are domestically produced. The site gives you the option to “shop your values” and browse fair-trade, organic, U.S.A.-made, recycled, vegan, or reusable items — but virtually all of the clothing included is too casual for workwear. (Looks like a great site for gift-buying, though!)
  • Three Dots: As with many of these brands, much of this label’s clothing tends toward the casual, but some pieces will work for the office — its high-quality t-shirts earned a mention in our Guide to the Best Tops Under Women’s Suits. Here’s a sleeveless dress at Zappos for $128.
  • American ApparelOK, yes, the company’s clothes are made in the U.S., but, as you probably already know, they have a long history of some other types of, um, issues (which haven’t stopped after CEO Dov Charney’s exit).
  • Raven + LilyRaven + Lily, a B Corporation, is a member of the Ethical Fashion Forum and sells clothing, jewelry, accessories, and gifts. The U.S.A. Collection comprises soy candles made by formerly homeless women in Los Angeles, and clothing made by refugee women living in Austin, TX. (Other items are fair trade made by women in India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Guatemala.)

Further Reading:

(Pictured at top: Pleione Pleat Back Woven Print Top, available at Nordstrom for $39 in regular and petite sizes.)

Do you try to buy clothing that’s made in the U.S.? How much more are you willing to pay for it? What are your favorite brands that are manufactured domestically?

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N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!

Comments

  1. Other good made-in-the-US brands include:
    Marine Layer: mostly casual, but they sell work-appropriate woven buttondowns.
    Curator: again, mostly casual, but includes cardigans, tops, and skirts that would work as business casual
    AG jeans: y’all know what these are
    Eileen Fisher: the whole line is not US-made (although they are committed to an ethical supply chain in general). Not just for 40+ women anymore! This is where I get my work pants and skirts.
    Pact: some fair trade imported, some US-made. Socks/camisoles/leggings. Somewhat similar stock to American Apparel, but not run by terrible people.

    Hardest nut to crack for ethically produced clothing is structured blazers and jackets. I would be very interested in any suggestions from other commenters.

    • Nina McLemore: Made in NY
      St. John (not Yellow Label): Most of their blazers are still made in CA.

      • Thank you! I didn’t know that about St. John. They’re out of my price range new, but I can stalk them on ebay.

        • If you have a Nina store near you (or are travelling to somewhere with one), I HIGHLY recommend them. Just go once and get your sizes figured out and you can order online. It’s more affordable than St. John (400-1000 for a jacket, vs. over 1000 for St. John), and more versatile.

      • please visit our site www.withloveus.com for a directory of brands that are made in usa. Happy July 4th!

    • I echo the endorsement of Eileen Fisher. They give the impression of having great concern for responsible manufacturing. Some items are made in the U.S.

      I am 37 and quite thin and recently discovered that Eileen Fisher has some great offerings (I had always thought of it as frumpy clothing for middle-aged ladies). I have two skirts that are fantastic (if anything, they are a bit too short!) and recently bought a pair of pants. They are super comfortable, and I love that they are washable.

    • Nanette Lepore. http://www.polyvore.com/nanette_lepore_jackets/shop?brand=Nanette+Lepore&category_id=25

    • Karen Kane

    • I would also throw Soul Flower in this mix: https://www.soul-flower.com

  2. Also, as a note to Kat/Kate, I think this feature will be most valuable if you stick to brands that have a substantive commitment to ethical production. For me, the vague language about intentional buying on Cuyana’s website falls far short of that. It’s the equivalent of greenwashing. If you can call up the brand and ask them what exactly they mean, where their stuff is produced and/or why we should believe that it’s ethically produced, I’d be *very* interested in hearing the answers. Otherwise, it’s meaningless. All the major brands issue press releases about their commitments to fair labor conditions on the regular; they also continue to produce in sweatshops.

    • I agree. I’d love to see a feature or interview where these companies (such as cuyana) are contacted by Kat or Kate for comment, instead of just giving us a link roundup.

    • Along these lines, I think one of John Oliver’s points was that brands may say they are being “intentional” about ethical sourcing, but that sometimes those same brands turn a blind eye to whether their “ethical sources” are subcontracting out to companies with unfair labor practices or inhumane working conditions. Basically brands can (and do) protect themselves by being one step removed from exploitative production.

  3. I said this in the last discussion on this – obviously US labour practices are nowhere near as bad as they can be in some less developed countries, but to this Brit your labour laws are still pretty darned horrific. Clopens, no mat leave, no sick pay, very little paid vacation… all illegal here. I’d buy made-in-the-EU over made-in-the-USA any day (though this is more of a frequent question in the grocery store, perhaps, where I buy Spanish grown tomatoes over Morrocan grown, for example).

    • Amen. I don’t get this made-in-the-USA obsession, at least not on any premise that it’s better for the workers. Plenty of other places have perfectly fine garment manufacturing practices and labor laws, and I find it very ethnocentric that Americans think our system is truly that much better than others. Yes, there are sweatshops out there, and you shouldn’t buy from them, but sticking with US-only manufacturing throws out the baby with the bathwater.

      • Anonymous :

        I agree with this. I think it’s also an economics issue, it’s fine to want to buy made-in-USA products but not everyone will be able to afford them. Generally speaking, wages in developed countries are higher than those in developing countries. Companies move their operations overseas in order to be able to compete globally, they are not just selling to North American consumers. Insisting on fair labor laws and good manufacturing practices across the board would be more effective.

      • YES. Besides, I don’t want to cut women in Bangladesh out of making a living–I want the manufacturing there to not endanger their lives and safety!

    • I’d love to see a made-in-the-E.U. version of this as well! Or any other country or region that has reasonably enforced labor laws.

    • I think our ethnocentrism is getting the best of us. When I first asked this question, I did really mean reliably ethically produced clothing from anywhere, not just Made in the U.S.A., even though that is what my question asked. Guilty as charged for interchanging the two.

  4. I’m a fan of Pact Apparel for casual clothing, too. http://www.wearpact.com/our-story/

  5. I also think this is an extension of the declining quality issue. Manufacturers are cutting costs everywhere- labour, and materials are both cheaper. One is at the cost of fair treatment, the other is at the cost of quality of goods. The cheaper labour is also often less skilled (probably because many of them are basically indentured servants), which also affects quality.

  6. Most Nanette Lepore clothes are made in NYC. The aesthetic can be a bit girly-girl, but there are a ton of work appropriate items as long as you don’t work in a business formal environment.

  7. Anyone have leads for plus-size wear in this category? Most of these go up to size 12 or 14 (though Pact looks like it goes a bit higher, based on measurements).

    • Anonymous :

      +25

    • Meg Murry :

      There is a boutique in my town that sells Made in USA clothes and 2 of the brands they sell are Comfy USA and Tianello, in addition to Eileen Fisher – all up to a 3X. They are not business formal, but do have items that can be dressy business casual.

      To me, buying at a local boutique (to keep them open and available to me) is even more important than Made in the USA/ethically produced. I love online shopping, but having a store where I can go in and have someone help me put together outfits is even better.

    • Igigi is made entirely in San Francisco. Not all of it is right for work, and as a short person I hate their maxi dresses, but a lot of their stuff is just great: www.igigi.com

      I believe NYDJ is made in the U.S., too, and comes in plus sizes.

    • Wallis Evera makes beautiful work dresses out of hemp up to size 18.

  8. I strongly agree with the idea that Made in the USA is the wrong umbrella if your real desire is ethical manufacturing. I came away from a year full of trips to China believing that American consumers do the most good when they demand that company’s treat workers fairly, not when they require Made in the USA. Economics will prevail, the factors of product will do what they will do. We have to think globally, and then ethically in the global context.

    The founder of a group called Goodweave, which focuses on ethical global rug-weaving, recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. We need something similar for clothing. In that framework, companies can manufacture following their bottom-line drivers, and we the consumer can bring about real change.

    • Anonymous :

      comment deleted

    • Very well put–>>” Economics will prevail, the factors of product will do what they will do. We have to think globally, and then ethically in the global context.”

      • Thank you. Of course, I meant “factors of production.” That’ll remind to proofread every time I try to say something erudite;).

  9. Little Red :

    I generally prefer Made in USA not because our labor laws are necessarily the best in the world but because I prefer to see my fellow Americans gainfully employed so that they can support themselves and their families. But I’m willing to go outside for well-made and ethically made clothing made in other countries. I’m not familiar with labor laws in the EU but I wouldn’t quibble if something said it was made in an EU country. What I really object to is unfair, unethical, and unsafe labor practices used to create this super cheap clothing. I just don’t want people to be treated as slaves so that I can have a $5 t-shirt.

    P.S. Milly is another brand where quite a bit of product is made here in the US.

  10. babyweight :

    Iris Setlakwe — Made in Cananda.

    http://collectioniris.com/

    My experience with this line has been amazing. Priced like Lafayette 148, but definitely hipper.

    • Anonymous :

      Thank you for this! I am heading to MTL to see friends this summer, and I’m glad to see Canada representing a fantastic option.

  11. hoola hoopa :

    Kamik rainboots make some of their items in Canada.
    LL Bean makes some of their items in USA (although very few if any clothing).

  12. I also want to bring up Everlane! Though everything is not made here, they are all about full transparency in where they get their fabrics and how and where they are manufactured. Their silk blouses are GREAT esp for the price.

  13. What about Etsy? Granted, not all their stuff is Made in USA but it’s easy to search for that if a priority.

    I’ve gotten some really cute Made in USA stuff from Modcloth, unintentionally. They do NOT make it easy to search…

  14. Coach Laura :

    And…the flashing banner on the top of this [email protected]@ page is trumpeting a skirt for $12.67! Now, I’m not maligning Kat in any way (or begrudging her need to make money from this blog) but how’s that for coincidence?

  15. Related to conscientious consumption – No discussion of the nail salon abuses reported by the NYT? Did I miss it?

  16. Hello, Thank you for this piece. I do try to only buy apparel made here in America because it is one way I vote with my dollars. I then photograph my outfits and link to the brands on my blog. I also wrote a bit about how I find the items that I wear here, “http://www.mrsamericanmade.com/search/where+i+shop”

    • Whoops! Sorry accidentally reported on my cell when trying to access your link. Wish there were an “unreport” Button for my thick thumbs.

  17. Maudie Atkinson :

    Another way to come at the fast-fashion, disposable clothes problem, as well as the American-made one, is to shop vintage and consignment. For example, I bought a great suit, made in Roanoke, Virginia by the ladies garment worker union, at my local thrift shop a few weeks ago. I am not overstating things when I say it is my new favorite work outfit. And it delighted this daughter of a labor organizer to no end that it was made in America by organized workers.

  18. In-House Europe :

    As others have mentioned I’d love to see a follow up arrive with globally sourced ethics clothing – whether made in Europe or in a non-sweatshop factory in Asia. Although I suppose that’s rather difficult to determine what with long supply chains, etc.

  19. Fulsus USA makes technical outerwear in Colorado. Check it out! www.fulsususa.com

  20. Anonymous :

    There are so many aspects to this. What about all the fuel used to feed the thousands of monster cargo ships hauling all that cheap crap to us from the other side of the globe? Why do we get so few imports of all types from our next door neighbors Mexico and Canada? At the very least, the transportation costs would be far less. What about NAFTA? I thought that was supposed to facilitate commerce between the US, Canada, and Mexico.

  21. Oscar Perez :

    Check out American Fitness Wear they are great. https://americanfitnesswear.com

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