When we're afraid our kids won't be able to stomach the gory details of conception and childbirth, we tell them that go-to stork story — that a big-beaked bird just dropped Baby Sister off in a bundle on the doorstep one sunny morning. The concept sounds ridiculous to any mature adult, of course; we know now that a messy and complicated process precedes all of life's creations, infants or not.
And yet, somehow, we complacently accept (and buy into, quite literally) a similar legend when it comes to the clothing we wear every day. We so easily purchase bagfuls of shirts and shoes at the store without ever considering how they got there, as if yarn can mysteriously weave itself into a sweater while it falls from the sky and onto a hanger. Rationally, if subconsciously, we realize that some sewing was involved, but how often do we pause to consider who wove the threads, and where, and how? When a shirt costs us a mere $10, might someone else have paid the true cost of the labor?
This week is Fashion Revolution Week, spearheaded by FashionRevolution.org, whose mission is to increase transparency in the fashion industry and simultaneously raise standards for garment sourcing, production and consumption. The organization urges us, as customers, to consider who made our clothes and to demand those answers from brands — because the answers are often appalling.
Of the 75 million farmers, spinners, weavers, dyers, sewers and others behind major labels and common wardrobe items, 80% are women between 18 and 35 years old, and most live in poverty. Many endure dirty and even dangerous working conditions to earn their meager wages, all while facing verbal and physical abuse, among other exploitations.
The environmental effects of fast fashion are disastrous, too. The chemicals used for farming, dying and laundering fibers and fabrics pollute the world's rivers while guzzling massive amounts of water. Plus, post-production and purchase, the average American discards around 80 pounds of clothing every year, amounting to 14 million tons that pile up in landfills nation-wide.
It's no wonder that big brands prefer to conceal these facts and that we prefer not to face them, too. But there's a solution that requires neither ignoring (or implicitly supporting) these unacceptable conditions nor forgoing fashion altogether: seek out apparel with a commendable story stitched into its pattern. Buy less, and buy from brands that are upfront about their sourcing, production and distribution practices.
Fortunately, more and more of today's apparel lines are doing just that. They're following organic standards to cultivate their fibers, employing artisan tailors with fair wages and ensuring that their products are made to last. They're enabling us to wear what makes us look good and feel good, while doing good at the same time.
Below, we've rounded up a few of our favorite labels of the moment for thoughtful wardrobe essentials, from lingerie to athletic apparel and more. All are responsibly and respectfully made in the United States. If you're currently refreshing your closet for spring, we urge you to consider these or other conscious clothing brands, taking a more mindful approach to shopping for the sake of both the makers and the planet (with sacrifices to ethical values or style).
Versatile go-to dresses: Season
After eight years working in the fashion industry as a stylist, blogger, on-air host and more, Jessie Artigue launched Season with a few key values in mind: form and function plus timeless style to make women feel beautiful on a broad variety of occasions (and at a broad variety of body sizes), plus the wellbeing of both apparel makers and Mother Earth. Enter the Pepper Dress, made in the U.S. with 100% silk that's draped in a loose and generous shape to conveniently conserve fabric (plus comfort and self-confidence). It can be worn in more than five different ways, styled simply or layered with accessories, to take you everywhere from a wedding to an after-work coffee date.
Lingerie: Brook There
Confidence meets comfort in these undies and bras (plus other loungewear), sewn with strong attention to ethics and the environment. The fabrics include GOTS-certified organic cotton jersey from South Carolina and linen milled in California, plus trims of silk and spandex; after sourcing, they're dyed in Pennsylvania, using fiber-reactive tints whenever possible. The lingerie is then sewn in New England at the same facility where the inventory is stored until shipping, minimizing carbon emissions from transport. Along with sizing, price and other common filtering categories, online customers can sort the shop by specific ethics, including "vegan," "cut and sewn in Maine" and more.
Athletic apparel: Fibre Athletics
Say "yes" to sweat, but "no" to sweatshops. Based in Chicago, this sportswear label is a dedicated member of the Fair Trade movement. The company uses organic and recycled materials to minimize its carbon footprint, which means making less waste, using less energy and abstaining from toxic pollutants — and all of those materials are sourced, cut and sewn in America. The online shop provides all the details you never knew you never knew about your previous performance-wear, like the fact that the cotton for the Everywhere Jacket is grown in Texas and spun in North Carolina.
Denim: Bluer Denim
Whether bootcut, matchstick or skinny, the cotton for these jeans is grown in Georgia, then milled in North Carolina, before it's cut, sewn and finished in Los Angeles with copper constructed in Kentucky, all based on designs from the company headquarters in Portland, Oregon. (Repeat that five times fast.) Each step of the multi-state process shows a commitment to local manufacturers and eco-friendly operations. But perhaps most remarkable is the brand's "buy one, give one" model. When you make a purchase, you can send in a gently used pair of jeans (with a $5 discount code for future orders offered in return), and Bluer donates them to charity. This both aids those in need of clothing and reduces waste for a total win-win.
p.s. Here's how to get your skin fresh and prepped for spring.