2018 update: We still stand by this advice on where to find ethical clothing for work, and links have been updated below. You may also want to check out our Guide to Slow Fashion.
John 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 slow fashion and ethical shopping choices — we also plan to cover:
- well-known workwear brands that are (mostly) made in the U.S.
- fair trade retailers
- cruelty-free beauty products
- “natural” beauty products
- ethically and sustainably sourced jewelry
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. [2018 Update: Dobbin is currently “taking a break,” alas.]
- 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. [2018 Update: Unfortunately, Zady is no more.]
- 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. [2018 Update: Alas, Oak73 is no longer in business.]
- Cuyana: As with Zady, it’s hard to find specifics about sourcing, etc., on Cuyana’s website, which sells clothing, bags, and accessories, but it mentions “intentional buying” and provides details for some of its suppliers here. Again, not everything is work-appropriate, but some pieces are, like this U.S.A.-made silk tee for $155.
- Of A Kind: Some of the clothing, shoes, accessories, and other items at Of A Kind (which strives to feature pieces from new designers) are made in the U.S., like this $99 oxford shirt, although the degree of work-appropriateness varies.
- Bailey44: Most of this label’s clothing — some of which is acceptable as officewear — is designed and made in Los Angeles (the brand says, “we make as much of the collection as possible in L.A.”). This $198 Cinnamon Dress is made in the U.S. from “domestic fabric.”
- Judith & Charles: We included this one for our readers in Canada — the brand says 80% of its clothing (much of it work-appropriate) is made “locally.” The Andi Dress is $450.
- Lesley Evers: Everything from this bright and colorful California-based brand is made in Oakland, and the fabrics are printed in L.A. Many styles are too casual for workwear, but some are better bets (at least for offices that aren’t super-conservative), like this blazer or wrap dress, both of which are machine washable.
- Fair Indigo: Fair Indigo sells both imported, fair-trade pieces and items that are domestically produced. The site gives you the option to “shop your values” by browsing fair-trade, organic, U.S.A.-made, recycled, and 100% cotton items — but most of the clothing included is too casual for workwear. (Looks like a great site for gift-buying, though!)
- Three Dots: As with several of these brands listed here, much of Three Dots’ clothing tends toward the casual, but some pieces could work for the office, such as this machine-washable sleeveless wrap top at Zappos, on sale for $70.99 (however, it does note both “Made in the U.S.A.” and “imported”).
- American Apparel: OK, 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 didn’t stop after CEO Dov Charney’s exit). [2018 Update: After its 2017 sale to Gildan Activewear, American Apparel was no longer a “Made in the U.S.A.” company.]
- Fashion Brands’ Message for Fall Shoppers: Buy Less, Spend More [The Wall Street Journal]
- That “Made in USA” Premium [The New York Times]
- Slow fashion brands work to put the brakes on disposable fast fashion [Los Angeles Times]
(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?