Work clothes that aren’t made by little hungry children putting in 18 hour days

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Daily Outfit - Work - Friday - side view
So something like this, but not made in a sweatshop © by …love Maegan, used under Creative Commons license.
Good news, Homies! I just acquired my first white collar job in a while. My wardrobe is almost completely unprepared for this, and I really feel strongly about not buying sweatshop-made clothing.

I am normally a big thrift or vintage shopper, but as everyone who does this knows, it’s kind of luck-of-the-draw on whether you’ll find anything. I’m a mediocre seamstress, but not good enough to produce my own clothing en mass. Combing the internet for non-sweatshop goods, I find a lot of men’s bike clothes, a legion of organic hemp t-shirts, and a variety of beautiful things which are way too hippie to be my regular style, and not a lot I can wear to work.

If non-sweat shop clothing is also a priority for you, how do you make it work?

For the Homies who do their best to buy sweatshop-free clothing, how do you dress yourselves for work?

Comments on Work clothes that aren’t made by little hungry children putting in 18 hour days

  1. Consignment stores! They’re much more selective about what they take in regards to quality and condition. Downside (?) is they charge much more than traditional thrift stores. Any way you slice it; shop in an affluent neighborhood. It pains me to say that my bf and I observed a very steep difference in style and quality between socioeconomic boundaries (I always imagined they redistributed the clothing so folks can “trade up”).

    Etsy also has a lot of aspiring clothiers that have pre-made or custom made clothes. Some have a definite “hippie” feel and others can be integrated with more business appropriate clothing. My personal favorite store has some inconspicuous shirts and great undergarments (brookthere). There’s also tons of vintage clothing for sale on Etsy and once you dive in it gets easier and easier to find stuff that suits you.

    Finally, when all else fails: whenever I do buy mass produced clothing I donate the same amount to a charity or to micro-loans. I’m hoping it will offset some of the choices I make.

    • Consignment stores have really been the way to go in my experience. Sometimes you can find some great stuff for pretty cheap, especially if it has a teeeeny tiny stain that someone didn’t bother to fix. The price is more than your average thrift store, but still less than a boutique. Good luck in your new job!

  2. I’ve had really good luck with some of the reproduction vintage shops on Etsy (like Nudeedudee, Rockin’B, Allure Original Styles) for custom or American made items that I can wear to work. Also there’s Bernie Dexter and In the Heyday which are made in America and New Zealand that I have also had good luck with. I can mix and match the retro pieces in and still look professional. You need to be a bit careful though on Etsy and do your research into different shops before you buy. In recent years, I’ve noticed quite a few more sweat shops appearing on there selling at bargain basement prices with really high end photos.

  3. While it can be a little more pricey than consignment shops, you can also consider locally custom-made. If you look around,there are still loads of dressmakers out there who do a fantastic job – your outfit will be new, fit perfectly, last forever and made by someone who you have paid a working wage.

  4. If you have friends who are about your size, host a swap. I just did and it was great – about ten girls brought a huge amount of clothes, shoes, and accessories, we all got rid of the crap that was clogging up our closets, and we walked away with “new” clothes. The leftovers were donated. You could even host a work-wear specific swap, if you want to narrow your focus.

    In terms of brands to shop new, try designer outlets. A lot of higher-end designers make work-wear that is manufactured in the US. It’s a little pricier, but that comes with the territory. Classic dresses are a great investment because they can be work-appropriate but also fun for going out. I love Jolie and Elizabeth dresses, which are all 100% American-made.!home

    • be carful, many many high end designers have their stock made in terrible conditions. If Chanel and Armani uses sweatchops, others do too. Inform youself before to be sure the designer is ethical.

  5. I contacted several etically correct shops concerning white-collar clothes, and the standard reply was that there was “no demand” for it. Really?

    I try to find as much as possible on ebay – even if it was not manufactured ethically correctly, at least I am not adding to the general sadness (and waste).

  6. This isn’t helpful to most people here but I live in Taiwan and go to the massive fabric market, and have a tailor. I buy the fabric – stretchy knits and work-appropriate fabrics are easy enough to find – and bring it to her with either a printout of what I want, or an item I have that I want copied. It costs more but is totally worth it, and everything fits great!

  7. If there’s a store nearby that carries several brands of clothes in your price point, it might be worth Googling each label. While it’s usually pretty fair to equate inexpensive clothing with unethical production, there are still some brands that resist that route. It might not turn up any leads, but at least you’ll know!

    • This is what I have to do. Unfortunately, my athletic frame (but with large hips) makes it difficult to find clothing that fits. Therefore I’ve never found anything decent at thrift or consignment shops, and online is just too risky.

      I find a few brands that I know fit, research them, and stick with that.

    • And keep in mind that clothes made in other countries may be just as ethically “clean” as US-made — there are not so many, say, Canadian manufacturers, but there are some!

  8. I am surprised no one has said this yet, and I admit that you would be trading sweatshops for questionable sexual ethics and objectifying ads, but American Apparel is US Made and the workers are well paid and receive benefits. There is a good deal of casual wear, but they also make pencil skirts, button downs, dress pants and blazers. Some is expensive, some isn’t, they usually have sales online. And if you live in a big city like mine (nyc) there is always an american apparel factory sale going on somewhere in the city with crazy deals. I admit, I mostly avoid them as the company owner is a misogynist, but I also think shopping there doesn’t just benefit him, so it’s a toss up.

  9. I’m guessing you’re not in the UK but I’m putting this out there for UK homies who want an answer to the same question. The Fairtrade Foundation has started certifying cotton products in the same way as coffee/chocolate/etc. This certification doesn’t always means the garment has been fairly produced, but it does mean the cotton itself was fairly grown. Suppliers do have to sign a thing saying that the garment was produced fairly, but it’s up to them to say that. So, it’s a start but not a solution.

    Anyway, here’s a list of fairtrade cotton suppliers:
    Again, some of those suppliers also sell non-fair-trade cottons so it’s up to you whether you want to support them despite this.

    Some other foundations to look into are the Social Accountability International, the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fair Wear Foundation, which I think are more global.

    Not the answer to your “need work clothes urgently” dilemma, but I’m learning to sew my own clothes and it’s making me really happy as well as cutting one ethical dilemma out of my garment buying (although, now I worry about where my fabric comes from, hence the interest in fair trade cotton witnessed above!).

    You could always find a pattern or style you like and find a local seamstress to make it. The bonus of this is it would be made to measure!

    Sometimes I still find myself buying Ready To Wear clothes without delving deep into their provenance. It’s not often, but probably still more often than I’d like. When I do this, I make a promise to myself to make sure I get a lot of wear out of the clothes – buying stuff that I need rather than the latest fashion trend, mending them when they break, passing them on when they no longer fit or flatter me. I know it’s still bad to buy mass market clothes, but NOT treating clothes like their disposable is part of the start of changing the whole clothing shebang.

    Whoa, sorry for the essay with lots of half-assed solutions! In an ideal world we’d all be able to afford locally made clothes made from fairly grown organic natural fibres, but…

  10. Better World Shopper:

    This site is not a source for clothes but rates major retailers in about 20 or so categories based on their adherence to 5 ethical standards (human rights, animal protection, the environment, community involvement, and social justice). Not all of the companies listed are sweat free by any means but it lets you determine which companies are better of those commonly commercially available. I was actually pleasantly surprised in some cases.

    It has recently been updated and I believe you can see how each company fares in specific areas.

  11. Yes to American Apparel: we have a few stores locally that carry their products, but once I find something that fits, I just order a handful of that item in different colors online. Easy. I’ll also echo a yes for consignment stores. For the very best of stuff, I recommend hoofing it to a town that is in a relatively high income bracket. I have found amazing vintage and friendly-brand clothes at insane prices in towns where people are more inclined to just toss nice clothes.

    Lastly, I can speak as someone who is not particularly adept at sewing; if you have an afternoon or two to hang out at a sewing shop when they have classes or drop-in sessions, people who DO sew often love to teach, and they are very receptive to helping you learn very basic basics and find very easy patterns. I now make most of my own skirts, and can whip out a fancy scarf in a matter of minutes. It’s totally worth the time investment to get to make a few fun anchor pieces and accessories from scratch!

  12. I have pretty good luck at secondhand stores like Crossroads or Buffalo Exchange. I think secondhand is awesome because (a) my money doesn’t go to the manufacturers and (b) there are already tons of clothes in the world in great condition so it seems wasteful to buy too much new.

    Plus, this option works for my budget. You can get great shirts for about $7-10 and pants for $15 and up. I just can’t always afford the really nice, made in USA stuff that I want. However, at times I have had to hunt around these stores pretty hard to find stuff that worked for me. (Still better than straight-up thrift store, though.)

    I guess that the people who DO shop from the big mean manufacturers are receiving money back for their purchases, so in that way my shopping habits are kind of giving money back to the source. I never thought about it that way until just now. But still, if that’s the lesser of two evils I would say it is the much lesser, and since it’s the best compromise I can make between my morals and my budget I’ll probably keep doing it.

    • Oh yeah, forgot to mention: For my job I have to look nice but not like ladysuits-nice. Crossroads/Buffalo Exchange are more casual in the pants department (mostly jeans and a few other options) but there are still tons of shoe and shirt options!

  13. I’ve found that the thrift stores near really affluent neighborhoods can have a more work-friendly selection – yay for rich people donations! – but then you’d have to trek out to wherever that might be.

  14. Have you seen Isis Made’s ethical clothing pledge? She’s done a ton of research into ethical/non-sweatshop sources for all sorts of clothing items. Definitely worth taking a look.

    One of the things I see coming up over and over again when people talk about ethical/sustainable fashion is the idea of owning less stuff of better quality. So one thing to keep in mind is you might wind up paying more for something ethical/sustainable/whatever, but it’ll last a lot longer.

  15. Fair Indigo has some things that would be appropriate for work. They have organic cotton, fair trade, and some USA-made clothes. Everything I’ve bought from them has been very high quality and has lasted several years.

  16. Eddie Bauer does try to be ethical in their manufacturing. I can’t say for sure how successful they are. But their clothes are appropriate for more casual work environments with a small selection of slightly dressier clothes. Not great for bigger sizes in the pants unless you can guess correctly and order online.

    Pinup Girl Clothing has vintage-style clothes that are manufactured by them. Pencil skirts, dresses, some tops. All good quality also.

  17. Any suggestions for ethically manufactured clothing in plus sizes? Almost all of the sites linked to so far only do standard sizes, unfortunately.

  18. MODCLOTH! Though not all – a lot of the dresses on are made in the United States. If you click on “Details” for an item, it will list if the item is imported or made in the USA.

    • You can actually just search “Made in the USA” on modcloth and it’ll show you all the clothes made here. I try to buy all fair-labor (which I mostly accomplish by trying to buy all made in the USA) clothing, and this has helped me a lot.

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