Responsible Shopping

When it comes to shopping more responsibly for clothing, there are a few truisms.  First, you generally have to pay more for clothing that pays workers a living wage.  Second, the more responsible a company is, the more information they provide consumers about how they source products.  And finally, smaller companies are doing a better job than the fashion giants at solving the social and environmental problems that clothing production entails.

Fast fashion simply cannot be sustainable.  The cheap prices and fast turnover of styles in the stores encourages over-production.  I’ve looked in a lot of Goodwill bins, and the great majority of clothing to be found in them is cheaply made, fast fashion from Forever 21, Walmart, and Old Navy.  While a high price tag cannot guarantee an ethical garment, an extremely low one almost guarantees that somewhere along the line there have been abuses, usually in the form of  low wages for workers.  I’ve got to wonder how Forever 21 owner Don Chang got to be a billionaire, but the same question can be asked about billionaire Ralph Lauren.  So price of the garment might be a hint as to practices, but it can’t be the only factor.

Many companies are working toward transparency in their supply chain.  I was amazed at the good job several companies I looked at were at telling consumers where their products were made.  Probably the best is Patagonia, who tells not only what country a product is made in, but tells and pictures the factories that provide materials.  The website has information about every supplier to Patagonia.  They also have an innovative repair and recycling program.  Not that you’ll ever need it.  I’m still wearing a pair of Patagonia hiking shorts I bought used about fifteen years ago.

Contrast that with what seems to be the industry standard of only revealing that a product is “imported.”

Another website that gives detailed sourcing information is Zady.  Zady is not so much a brand as it is an online store that sells multiple brands, though there are some Zady branded articles.  I’ve never bought from Zady, but I do have the site bookmarked to consider if any clothing need arises.

Probably the most ambitious company at the present in regards to sustainability is Eileen Fisher.  They have put into action a plan to correct the weaknesses in their supply chain, and they have the plan tied to a timeline.  For each item for sale on the website, there is information about how that garment is eco-friendly.

One thing that these three companies above have in common is size.  They aren’t tiny companies, but they are not the huge corporations that are so often tied to garment production and sales.  One of the most telling stories to come out of the Rana Plaza tragedy was that many of the companies that did business with the factories in Rana Plaza did not know their goods were being made there until the labels were found in the destroyed building.  The system of contracting and sub-contracting has become so huge and involved that the management of many big companies can’t tell who makes their clothes because even they do not know.

So it’s refreshing when mid-sized companies make it their business to know with whom they are working and are not ashamed to publicize their partners on their website.  Last week, after thousands of people began tweeting and instagramming companies asking who made their clothes, many companies began showing workers from all over the world.  What I noticed was that so many of these companies were small.  Topshop was too busy showing off photos of the new Beyonce line to comply, though Forever 21 did post a photo of a plant for Earth Day.  When H&M posted a cute message about their recycling program, they were quickly accused of “green-washing”.

There are lots of smaller companies who are beginning to show the inner workings of their industrial process, and I see that as a great sign.  A video on the Fresh Produce site takes the viewer through several of the manufacturers that work with them here in the US.  Okabashi shoes are made in the USA and their products are 100% recyclable, something you can do by returning the wornout sandals to the factory. These sandals are great for the beach, by the way. And in the UK, Peopletree also gives information on sustainability issues for each garment.

So, there are ways to buy new clothes in a responsible manner, but you do have to make a commitment to investigate companies and their practices.  And that is what the internet is for.



Filed under Shopping, Viewpoint

22 responses to “Responsible Shopping

  1. This is a great post! You make a good point – if the products are really cheap then someone must be suffering somewhere along the line.



  2. Thank for this. I appreciate the work you do in providing informative posts. Stephanie


  3. Another category is “private label” merchandising. In the mid 70’s while working in the creative fashion merchandising area we were being made aware of this new trend. It was like becoming your own manufacturer in the sense you worked directly with the factory -designing your own product on a mass marketing scale. Mid level in pricing with your own company label without the “designer” cost! All of that merchandising was off shore-Japan as I remember.


  4. Diana M Collins

    I know of at least two things that there seems to already be an infinite supply of; pajama pants and tank tops. If production of those 2 garments ceased today, there is an endless supply that could be used over and over. Well, hypothetically, of course, because we know they wouldn’t last nearly that long.

    What has to return to manufacturing, and big business in general, is morality. If I owned a clothing company and I knew that most of what I sold ended up in the rag trade or in a landfill, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Why would anyone be proud of a business like that? I remember reading a couple of years ago, that Forever 21 was going to open another line of stores that sold EVEN CHEAPER clothing. I don’t know if it came to fruition, but how can you sell a tee shirt for $4.00???

    Another problem are consumers, many of which still don’t care where their clothing comes from and thinks a $4.00 tee shirt is a bargain. These are the ones who’ve been taught that clothing in mostly disposable. If it comes apart in the wash, it’s okay because it didn’t cost much. Go out and buy another cheap whatever to replace it. Fast fashion is to blame for this too. Forever 21, H&M, Zara, all those cheap mall stores should be ashamed of themselves. But hey’d have to have morals for that.


  5. Yes – love this! There is a great quote: Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want. Anne Lappé.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. seweverythingblog

    Thanks for the wonderfully researched post. I wouldn’t even know who to contact at a big retailer to ask about where their clothing is coming from.
    Regarding those $4 t-shirts, my thoughts go out to the seriously financially strapped Americans who can only afford clothing that cheap. It’s a conundrum…..


  7. Wonderful post, and series, Lizzie.


  8. This is so great, Lizzie! i like how the Zady website shows all the details about the garment, including fabric production.

    While it can be difficult to find ethically/sustainably-made clothing, it can be very easy to tell what *isn’t* made sustainably. As you said, a little bit of Googling and looking at a company’s About pages can tell you so much. If they aren’t giving you much info, if the item is simply “Imported,” chances are it’s mass-made by people who are likely not paid well.


  9. Christina

    “… Forever 21 did post a photo of a plant.” Says it all. Dry humour at its best.


  10. I do try to be careful where I shop, but it is hard. I like how you say, “While a high price tag cannot guarantee an ethical garment, an extremely low one almost guarantees that somewhere along the line there have been abuses”; that’s very true. My most recent purchases were from Seasalt; I like their locally-designed prints, and they’re aiming to manufacture more locally, which I appreciate. I can’t bring myself to shop from places that I know have a dodgy track record. (The worst ones also seem to be the ones caught ripping off designers’ work, too… lack of ethics in every way.)


  11. Pingback: Patagonia’s Worn Wear Project | The Vintage Traveler

  12. Alex Brown

    Nicely written! We need to seriously consider the way we shop and the value we get out of things. I am a big supporter of sustainable fashion and natural fabrics. I believe everyone should switch to natural and completely avoid fast fashion, we’ve caused enough harm to the planet already.

    One of the planet friendly brands I recently discovered is SeamsFriendly ( These guys make their clothes from natural fabrics and even use wood and shell buttons. The styles are timeless and the pieces are super comfy. They are also very generous in sizing and offer sizes for almost everyone along with height options. The prices are affordable and there’s Free Shipping!


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