The collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh last month highlighted the terrible and unsafe working conditions of some of the world’s lowest earners. More than 1,100 people, including children, died when illegally constructed upper floors of Rana Plaza in Savar collapsed. Cracks had appeared in the building and the structure was even seen shaking, but factory managers thought it was too risky not to work because of the pressure to deliver their goods on time.
Many blame the American and European retailers that used the factory to produce “fast fashion” at low cost to sell to consumers in the west.
With about 98% of all clothes sold in the U.S. made overseas, it is difficult to know if the garment you are buying was made in exploitative conditions like those at the Rana Plaza factory.
So, how can you shop ethically? Sometimes it means changing how you shop, and not necessarily where.
When making a purchase, think: multi-use. The more ways to wear it, the better. This circle scarf from American Apparel comes with pictures and instructions that show how to wear it 13 ways, including a dress and a capelet! They even have videos to show you how to do it.
Reduce, reuse, recycle: buy pre-owned clothing at second-hand shops and on Ebay.
Hold clothing swaps with your friends.
Products created locally have a smaller carbon footprint and thus are environmentally-friendly. You can support your local economy and rest assured your clothes were made ethically when you shop with local designers and artisans.
On Etsy, you can specify your location and find beautiful handmade goods in your area.
American Apparel recycles over a million pounds of fabric scrap per year and have solar panels on the roof of their L.A. headquarters. They also use organic cotton in about 20% of their clothing. Their Sustainable Edition line is a selection of their most popular styles in 100% USDA certified organic cotton.
H&M has been using organically grown cotton since 2004 and plan to increase the amounts they use by 50% each year for the next 3 years.
Eileen Fisher has introduced a labeling system that marks whether an item of clothing is fair trade, made in the USA or certified organic.
Check out GoodGuide for more information and ratings on the health, environmental, and social impact of consumer products.