Saturday, March 25, 2006

Clothing with a conscience

I've had a request to write an entry on socially responsible clothing. That's a weird phrase. To clarify, I'll say that I try to make my own clothing consuming habits as economically equitable and environmentally sustainable as possible. That's still a weird thing to say. People don't really think of their clothing having an impact on the environment (I mean, cars and factories, sure, but a pair of jeans? What?), and while clothing is one of the things more frequently produced in sweatshops, it's very, very difficult to know which companies use sweatshops and which don't, because we can't really monitor clothing production outside the country too terribly well. So, while the idea of "socially responsible" clothing is a strange idea to most of us, it is a vast topic that I can't really cover in an entry that's not going to suck up all of blogger's bandwidth.

I'll try to consistently post little soundbytes on what clothing companies do what things to their workers and the environment, but it's too tough and too complicated just to call companies good and bad. One thing that I can say with confidence, however, is that the absolute least socially responsible place to shop is Walmart. They hire illegal workers who, in turn, they abuse and underpay; many, MANY of their products, clothing included, are made in sweatshops where workers are forced to work unpaid overtime, and where there have been reports of supervisors beating workers; they've lobbied to lower the standards for producing organic food; they've violated environmental laws; they have repeatedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act; frighteningly, the list goes on. I know that stuff is cheap at Walmart, but think about what the savings cost. If it's any consolation, I personally think that the clothes at Walmart are ugly and look cheap anyway. Just a thought.

I hate to lay it on all heavy, though, so I'll offer a solution--the company that's practically Walmart's antithesis is American Apparel. They run just about the most efficient clothing business possible, because all production, marketing, administration, distribution, everything, is done in one building, which is here in the U.S. (Los Angeles, to be specific). They're completely anti-sweatshop, and they pay their workers the highest wages in the garment industry. They give their workers affordable health care, paid vacation time, masseurs (um, can I have a masseur, please?), and free ESL (English second language ) classes. They even offer a sustainable line made out of organic cotton (quite a lot of pesticides are used on cotton production). Plus, um, oh yeah, the clothes are CUTE! I have two of the displayed skirt (both in colors that are positively sublime), and how can you not love a brand that sells legwarmers along with their basics? Perfect. I know that there has been some controversy about their ad campaign, but personally, I appreciate the fact that the models look like human beings instead of airbrushed 15 year-olds with negative space where hips ought to be.

Check them out here. And G, thanks for the request.



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