The Human Cost of Fashion

At this point in the blog, I think we can all agree that it feels good to look good. When you wear clothes that fit you well and flatter your skin and hair, you have the dual benefit of taking “worrying about if your pants are too tight or your foundation is the wrong color” off your mind (to focus on other, more important things) and knowing that your too-tight pants or off-color foundation aren’t distracting someone else from the amazing things you’re doing. We at Petite Curves Ahead are definitely in favor of looking good. Another thing that feels good is doing good. And when you choose your clothes, there’s a very easy way to do good as you make yourself look good. Simply put, you can put a little effort into ensuring the clothes you buy weren’t made through slavery or sweatshop or child labor.


image via WomanTrue

Those of us who are of a certain age remember Kathie Lee Gifford’s tears upon admitting she didn’t know enough about her clothing line’s supply chain to realize it was using forced labor. And it was only a couple of years ago that the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse reminded us that this was still a major issue. And it’s easy to see how widespread forced labor is in the fashion industry and feel like there’s nothing you can do – but honestly, it’s not that difficult to use your buying power to show the industry that this matters, and will continue to matter until it’s solved. Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy secondhand: Much like the dilemma some people feel about supporting the fur industry, an easy sidestep is to buy your clothing from consignment and/or thrift stores, or from sites like ThredUp or eBay. By purchasing secondhand, you’re not supporting the creation of new products, the supply chain of which you can’t necessarily confirm. Of course, some of us don’t have the time or patience to cull a wardrobe entirely from secondhand, and there are some items (underwear, socks) that I simply don’t ever want to buy secondhand. Which leads us to…
  • Buy American: While it isn’t a full guarantee, you can generally assume that “Made in the USA” tags imply a fairer labor standard was imposed on workers. There are a number of retailers that have special sections of their websites dedicated to domestically-made goods. Nordstrom‘s section is quite comprehensive, and among these brands are some favorites such as Paige Premium Denim, Eileen Fisher, and Michael Stars. Modcloth also has a “Made in the USA” selection, and their mid-century style particularly benefits those of us with larger hip-to-waist ratios. Of course, this is simply an aggregate of brands who are committed to an ethical supply, which you can do yourself…
  • Create your own master list: Not every sweatshop-free brand is American-made, nor is every American-made brand sold at Nordstrom or Modcloth. By doing some research you can have go-to brands who you can rely on for well-made, well-designed goods. Everlane has some of the best jersey knits out there (not to mention my beloved swing trench) and is extremely transparent about their supply chain. LearnVest put together a table of some of the more popular clothiers, which is a great starting place to know your clothes. Groundswell has a great source as well.

One last piece of advice: this does not mean you need to go through your closet tonight, tossing out everything whose supply chain may not be ethical. I’ve thought about it, and given that this is something I’ve only recently made a conscious effort to adhere to, there are certainly beloved pieces in my own closet of questionable origin. Frankly, those are sunk costs – getting rid of that Forever 21 dress isn’t going to affect their corporate bottom line, after all. Simply think of these guidelines as a “moving forward” recommendation – you can’t change how you spent your money in the past, but you can certainly change how you use your money to share your convictions in the future.

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