Mindful Shopping: Clothes Made in the USA
A comment made on my recent post, The Call of the Mall: Disconnect, suggested that since I had done the legwork, to write a post about clothes made in the USA. I actually hadn’t done much legwork for that particular angle, but I was inspired to do so. I came to realize that it can get a bit tricky, however.
Living the Minimalist life inevitably makes you think about stuff, its source, and its destination. The idea of Americans purchasing clothing made here in America was to avoid supporting sweatshops and companies cited for human rights violations, to support our local economy, to decrease resources used in transportation, and to perhaps get clothing made to higher standards. But what were these brands and where could they be seen and purchased?
I started with the one really nice American-made outfit I owned, a jersey-knit tunic and palazzo pants outfit by made by the company called cut loose. The label says made in America and–this is bonus territory–I purchased it from a small clothing boutique just two blocks from my house. I went back to the shop to see if there were any other American-made brands, and to my surprise there were several.
I can vouch for the cut loose brand because I’ve owned it and worn it and can attest that it is well-made, durable, and amazingly flattering. It is not cheap, as the various pieces can run anywhere from $65-$195. The ones I got were on steep clearance when I purchased them. The other American-made brands carried by this store are ones that I have not yet purchased, and if anyone has anything by these brands, please chime in and let us know what you think of them:
These brands share a similar price range and a young sensibility that is still wearable by older women and women of all shapes and sizes. There are pieces in basic colors and shapes, and ones in unique prints and shapes that are definitely not minimalist! This kind of clothing is carried by smaller upmarket boutiques, and many are willing to work with the smaller orders needed by these shops.
I looked up most of the above companies online, and most of them are to the trade only. Then I found some more companies online that are “proud to be made in the USA:”
Some on this last list led me to a couple of sites which have listings of sweatshop-free and fair trade companies, along with tons of other information useful to anyone into more mindful living and consumption. I’ve learned a lot just from a couple brief visits to them, and have them bookmarked for further perusal:
Now this is the part where buying American-made gets tricky. Not everything labeled “made in the USA” is sweatshop-free, because there are sweatshops right here in the United States and in our territories which are not covered by labor laws. So something can be made in some hidden warehouse in some big city with illegal immigrants or others seized as slaves, and nobody is the wiser. Every so often you’ll see something on the news that a sweatshop was raided and the workers rounded up and the operators arrested right here in this country.
A look at the Wikipedia entry for “sweatshop” states that it is a term with negative connotations that imply poor working conditions and unfair labor practices. The article goes through the history of sweatshops and labor laws, and how unions are an important part of ensuring workers’ rights and fair practices. Like the fair-trade organizations, it repeats that a label saying “made in the USA” does not necessarily mean what you think it means. Only a “union-made” label ensures fair working conditions, or a label such as “UNITE” which covers both unions and fair-trade practices.
But then come the pro-sweatshop opinions. Even some liberal economists come out pro-sweatshops, saying that being against them is a luxury only developed nations can afford, that factories providing any kind of work even with long hours and lousy pay are better than the alternatives available to the women and young people in impoverished countries. Prostitution is one such alternative.
Unions are fighting for their continued right of collective bargaining in several states, including here in Indiana. That “union-made” label is almost a guarantee of non-sweatshop conditions. But a lady at the dress shop (not the owner) where I found my made in the USA outfit was griping about the unions, saying that unionized workers get the decent wages and the benefits, but they aren’t buying the made in USA, and thus higher-priced, clothing. They’re taking their money and buying cheaper things made in the sweatshops. Now this may be an exaggeration, but there is likely some truth to it, too. Most of us don’t bother finding out more about where our clothes are made or the long-term repercussions of buying cheap imported goods.
So all of this information means there are no easy answers, and I haven’t even begun to research where some of the fabric comes from for our clothing. I do know that I want fewer and better clothes and to support a local business, so I will be making my future purchases from the little shop two blocks from my house and most likely make my selection from the brands made in this country or connected to fair trade somehow. The prices there are not much higher than they are for similar items online, and there is the bonus of actually being able to try them on.
I welcome your comments and points of view on this topic, and of course additions to the list of clothing brands for the Mindful Consumer.