We’ve all done it. Seen a nice shirt or must-have pair of pants or shoes. We buy them (usually at a discount price, because we’re bargain hunters after all) and take them home. We wear them for a bit, and then the new and shiny wears off. We get bored with them (or outgrow them), and they eventually linger in the closet with all the other clothes that no longer give us that happy feeling they did when they were new.
Not only does this common habit affect our bank accounts and our consumerism impact, but buying clothes has a much larger and darker footprint that includes this fact: Most of the clothes we buy today were made in sweatshops.
On average Americans buy somewhere around 68 garments every year, and most of those are made where conditions for workers in clothing and shoe factories are often atrocious (and sometimes deadly).
But multiple polls and studies have shown that not only do citizens want to buy ethically made clothing, they’re often willing to pay more to do it. Unfortunately, finding sweatshop-free products can be a real challenge. Here are 5 tips that can help.
1. Buy Less – This tip may seem simple and trite, but it’s true. Most of us own many more clothes than we need. Choosing to own fewer clothes not only does more good and less harm to people, animals, and the earth, but as this blog post notes, it gives us more income, more time, and less clutter in our lives.
2. Go Used – While technically most clothes found in thrift stores and consignment shops were originally made using unjust labor practices, buying used doesn’t directly support companies who use sweatshops for their products. Today’s thrift stores often have great clothes at a great bargain, and help keep clothes out of landfills.
There are also great reuse options like clothing swaps, which you can organize with a few friends for yourself, or your kids — or expand to a larger group. More cities are holding community-wide swaps, too.
3. Make Your Own – This tip may seen daunting at first, but DIY is in and there are countless resources and classes for making your own clothes … including out of other clothes. Start with something simple and before you know it, you’ll be designing and constructing one-of-a-kind creations that will become your favorite go-to choices. And making your own clothes isn’t a gender-specific talent. Anyone can do it.
4. Look for the Label – Though the number of companies making sweatshop-free and fair trade clothes are few, that number is slowly growing as more citizens demand more ethical options. Here are a few sources to search:
- The AFL-CIO has a database of union companies, searchable by category and keyword. Unfortunately there often aren’t many choices available, especially for products like clothing.
- The Fair Trade Federation offers an online guide for finding fair-trade products.
- Global Exchange has an online store with a variety of fair trade products, including a few clothes.
- Green America’s National Green Pages lists companies striving to offer more just & sustainable products.
- Sweatfree Communities offers a “Shop with a Conscience Consumer’s Guide” that lists products made under sweatshop-free conditions. Again, the choices are limited.
5. Research Companies – This tip involves a little digging, since companies don’t often make it easy to find out the details of their practices. And remember that it’s important to consult multiple sources to increase your chances of getting accurate, credible information.
- You can start with resources such as Green America’s Responsible Shopper. Although the database isn’t as current or thorough as it could be, it still provides a starting place for researching the policies and practices of different companies. Organizations like the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and CorpWatch also keep an eye on corporations.
- You can also do a web search for keywords you want (such as “fair trade clothing” or “sweatshop-free shoes”) and explore the results. More companies (especially smaller ones) are adopting practices and products that do more good and less harm, and they’re shouting it out on their websites. Also look for companies that offer “vegan” or “eco-friendly” clothing. Often these companies also pay attention to labor practices.
- Conversely, if you want to know about the practices of a particular company, you can do a web search for the company name and the word “sweatshops” to see if anything (positive or negative) pops up.
- For a broader overview, Good World Solutions offers resources and information about organizations working with companies to bring more ethical products, human and labor rights organizations, and more.
- And if you really want to do some major investigating, you can use sources such as those mentioned in this article: “5 Quick Ways to Identify a Responsible Company.”
We don’t have to put every single piece of clothing under a microscope before we buy it. But by tweaking our habits and doing a little more research, we can expand our opportunities to ensure that our clothing choices are aligned with our deepest values and are supporting a healthy, just, humane world.
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