Between the garment factory fire in Ashulia that killed 124 workers last November and the factory collapse this April that killed over one thousand people, many people are finally starting to pay more attention to where their clothing comes from. Several big-name retailers (including H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, and several British companies) have signed a legally-binding agreement to maintain standards at such factories, but many others – notably Forever 21, Gap, and Walmart – have not signed.
Meanwhile, there’s American Apparel, which has made all of its clothing in Los Angeles since its founding in 1989. On the surface, they seem like a great source for ethically- and locally-made clothing…but then AA is chaired by Dov Charney, who’s all kinds of gross, and their products are advertised primarily using underage girls’ privates (link NSFW because American Apparel augh).
So where do you go for clothing that meets all your social-justice needs?
Me, I go thrifting. (Or, more accurately consigning – Already Pretty can explain the difference.) I’m not the only one, and thrifting/consigning is becoming more popular as more and more unpleasant or downright harmful fashion business practices come to light.
Consignment stores, vintage boutiques, and good old-fashion thrift stores like Goodwill and Value Village have been growing in popularity for a variety of reasons:
1) Extend the lifespan of clothing. Your thrift store mileage may vary, but the quality of clothing at consignment stores is generally very high. Consignment stores are very choosy about what accept for resale, often taking items in great condition and less than three years old. You’ll spend more than you would at Goodwill, but the product you get is still fashionable and well-made, and you’ll still pay less than if you bought new.
2) Reduce landfill. Anything that’s taken to a thrift or consignment store is (assuming it’s in wearable condition) not going in the garbage. What do you think happens to all those $3 fast-fashion t-shirts? They wear out quickly, and get thrown away by all but the craftiest DIYers. Buying consigned means giving clothing a second life.
3) Reduce demand for new. Remember when the original iPod cost $499? Now the iPod Touch starts at $229. Lower prices means faster consuming, which means more production. Companies like H&M, Forever 21, and, to an extent, Target are teaching us that shirts can be had for $10 and dresses for $20. That’s not sustainable – materials will be low-quality, workers will be underpaid, and the garment lifespan will be short. Spend that money on a well-made, gently-used piece from a consignment store, and you’re more likely to land an item from a reliable brand, plus you won’t be spending the money on a cheap piece that’ll fall apart after two washings.
4) Expand your style. If you go to a thrift or consignment shop looking for one particular thing, you’ll most likely leave frustrated. However, if you go in searching for a broader category, like an office-friendly summer top, or a colored leather purse, you’ll probably have better luck. Consignment shops may offer more of a focus on vintage goodies, too, which can add signature pieces to your look.
5) Save money! It’s easy to end up spending more money more frequently on cheap fast-fashion items, or to waste money on items you don’t really need or want just because they’re cheap. Thrifting can offer higher quality for the same price, so even if you overspend, at least you’re buying stuff that will last longer.
If you’re willing to spend more in the name of social justice, there are plenty of American-made clothing brands out there: Single, Glima, Karina dresses, and Barbara Lesser are just a few. If your budget can’t handle that, though, consider checking out your local consignment store!