DIY Style: Responsible Fashion

All right people, it’s about to get a little serious up in here. Ready? OK, here we go.

The other day I was folding clothes and happened to look at the tag inside a dress. It read “Made in the Philippines.”

I found myself thinking about my grandmother, a schoolteacher who emigrated from the Philippines to California in the 1970s. She could not speak English very well and ended up working in an illegal sweatshop sewing shirts with other Asians in Oakland, Calif. The room was hot and the wages and hours were terrible. Yet, her experience was far better than what many people around the world face in order to eek out a living by making clothing we may wear for a season and then toss aside.

This past April, an eight-story factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed over 1,000 garment workers.

Last November, over 100 workers died in a factory fire that was making clothing for American companies. Disasters like these occur when companies choose to ignore unsafe working conditions, concentrating instead on getting the most bang for their buck.

Globalization has made it more economical for companies to produce cheaper goods by having them made overseas in third world countries.

What is a sweatshop?

It is a working environment where employees are forced to work for low wages, without rights, and for long hours in unhealthy conditions. Sweatshop conditions include but are not limited to starvation wages, unpaid overtime, lack of bathroom breaks or sick leave, and reprimands for workers who try to improve conditions.

Green America gave a ranking to several companies in the clothing industry grading their practices in the environment, human rights, labora, ethics and governance, and health and safety.

Check out which companies made the grade at

Is it possible to be economical, stylish and responsible?

Yes, it can be done! Although we do not currently have a lot of places that sell fair trade goods in our area, there are a few. For example, the Bucknell University Barnes and Noble carries fair trade accessories. (I’d love for you all to point me in the right direction for local stores that carry fair-trade fashion, so please shoot me an email if you know of any.) Anyone with access to the Internet can order items from responsible and ethical companies online.

Why should it matter?

Although the end product of something made in a sweatshop is cheaper, the money the consumer saves is at the expense of the workers who make it. And it isn’t just a third-world problem. Sweatshops still exist in the U.S. As regular old human beings, shouldn’t we not just seek to do no harm, but also try to do some good in the world? Buying clothing from sources that help, rather than hurt people seems like a pretty painless way to bulk up on good deeds.

What can we do?

We can use our money to buy clothing from companies that treat their employees fairly and avoid companies that exploit their workers.

Rather than preach about which companies to avoid, I’ll just mention some companies that promote fair trade goods available online.

Prana is a small company that makes clothing for an active lifestyle using organic cotton, fair-trade practices, and wind power to make their products. They started out cutting and sewing in a garage, shipping products to customers in fruit boxes culled from the grocery store and hand cutting hangtags with a pizza slices from ground up newspaper and essential oils.

Global Girlfriend is a website that helps women around the world become financially independent while also offering customers unique items. The clothing, jewelry, and other items are eco-friendly and made by women in fair working conditions.

Fair Trade Winds is a family-run online store and is a member of the Fair Trade Federation. They seek to ensure children’s right, cultivate environmental stewardship, and respect the cultural identity of their workers.

Haute Americana is a company featuring fashion made in the U.S.A., where workers conditions are monitored. Purchases directly support small businesses, which are responsible for two-thirds of new jobs created in the nation.