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9 Cool Ways to Avoid Sweatshops
Want to make sure your clothes weren’t produced in a sweatshop? — Our National Green Pages™ is filled with screened clothing companies that source their garments responsibly, so you don’t have to wonder if your clothing purchase is fueling injustice in a factory thousands of miles away.
We here at Green America depend on our own Green Pages companies to make sure that our purchases avoid sweatshops too. For example, our Green Festival® works with T.S. Designs, a longtime member of our green business network, to supply the thousands of soft, high-quality, organic, sweatship-free “Green Festival” T-shirts we give to our wonderful festival volunteers.
The good news is that “sweatshop-free” today goes beyond T-shirts. Searching the National Green Pages™ yields a green option for just about any apparel or household item you need; our editors compiled the list below by searching for sweat-free options on items people often ask us about.
Their picks are far from exhaustive, but clearly represent the reach of the green economy; we hope they inspire you to search the Green Pages on your own!
Women’s skirts and dresses
Many people know that sweatshop-free casual clothing for women – yoga gear, T-shirts, sweats – abounds. Fortunately, there are also more and more sweatshop-free options available for everyday, evening, and even office wear.
For example, Organic Attire’s comfortable, loose-fitting cotton dresses are designed in a solar- and hydro-powered studio in Northern California, and area all grown and sewn here in the USA. They’re perfect for a trip to the park or an outdoor summer concert. Less casual dresses from ecoganik – perfect for a date, or a night out without the kids – are also made in the USA, and can be found through the store locator on the ecoganik Web site.For work, Cottonfield USA sells organic cotton skirts and blouses, all made by women-owned knitting and weaving shops in Massachusetts and New York. Sweetgrass Fibers sells office-appropriate hemp and cotton skirts and dresses all made in the San Francisco Bay Area. Also, Fair Industry sells A-line skirts, drawstring-waist skirts, and a tweed herringbone skirt produced under Fair Trade Federation principles by the Artisan Hut, a Bangladeshi organization that supports fair labor practices for weavers and spinners.
2. Blue jeans for women and men
When Levi-Strauss moved its last US manufacturing plant to Mexico in 2004 (and then moved it to China a year later), it could have meant the end of a truly American product actually being produced by workers in America. Fortunately, however, there are still blue jeans being made in the United States.
The Certified Jean Co. makes blue jeans right here in the US, from organic cotton grown in Texas and California. Workers who sew the jeans make a living wage. Says general manager David Davison: “Anyone sewing for us makes at least $10 an hour. If that’s not what the factory’s already paying, then workers sewing for us get the rest of their pay from us in the form of bonuses.”
Also, not yet organic, but still made in the USA, are Diamond Gusset jeans, manufactured in Tennessee, which come highly recommended by sweat-free T-shirt manufacturer (and Green America board member) Eric Henry. (“I wear them often,” Eric says. “They’re similar in styling and fit to Levi’s 501 relaxed jeans.”)
3. Men's dress clothing
Like women’s suits and dresses, men’s dress clothing has sometimes seemed a bit more difficult to find sweatshop-free. In addition to the thrift store, eBay, and yard sale options, men looking for ties, dress shirts, and dress slacks do have somewhere to turn.
Justice Clothing sells men’s dress clothing made in unionized factories in the US and Canada. Its US dress-shirt factory is located in New Orleans, but when Hurricane Katrina devastated the manufacturing facility, the owners did not choose to move overseas for cheaper labor, but instead rebuilt and brought back all the workers who wanted to return.
Justice Clothing also makes a smaller line of women’s clothing, as well as hats, scarves, socks, and other accessories for everyone.
4. Men's and women's underwear
They’re not exactly the type of item that most people would want to buy used, which means “How do I find sweatshop-free underwear” is one of the most common questions Green America’s sweatshop program receives. For everyone who’s ever asked the question, we have good news...
American Apparel makes a variety of styles and colors of undergarments for men, women, and children at its factory in downtown Los Angeles. Red Dog Sportswear makes organic cotton underwear for men at its factory in Turkey where workers are paid a living wage.
And long-time Green America member Decent Exposures, which has been making women’s brassieres in Seattle for more than 20 years, recently added men’s and boys’ organic cotton briefs to their product list.
5. Tights for women, girls, and babies
Many Green America members already know the story of Maggie’s Organics, and its partnership with socially-responsible business partners, such as the Nicaraguan worker-owned Fair Trade Zone, to make organic cotton socks and T-shirts. But did you know that Maggie’s now sells sweatshop-free tights for women, girls, and babies, in a range of colors and textures?
The tights for women come in four flat knit colors, a textured style, and a new funky stripe. The offering of tights for girls join an extensive line of sweatshop-free baby clothes that Maggie's launched last year, including tights sized for newborns (as well as baby hats and bodysuits). Grown in Peru, the certified organic cotton that goes into the tights is grown by small family-run farms that are offered pre-harvest financing and hand-deliver their cotton to the gin. Workers at the mill are paid well over industry standards in wages and offered 100-percent health insurance premiums.
In addition to ordering online, Maggie's Organics can be found in Whole Foods and Wild Oats grocery stores, local cooperatives, and local natural products stores.
Everyone wears them during the summer season, and that’s about how long most of them last. One of our editors here at Green America insisted we include flip-flops in the list, so he could sing the praises of the super-durable sweatshop-free flip-flops he’s been wearing for five summers now, and couldn’t imagine living without.
Good for both people and the planet, Splaff Flopps are high-quality flip-flops, hand-crafted from recycled tires in California. While the soles are made from recycled car tires, the straps across the top are recycled bicycle tires, and the middle of the sole is cushioned with a “material made from used tires which have been chipped and pressed into mats.”
Started in a garage about a decade ago, Splaff Flopps has grown into a company that offers not only flip-flops, but other styles of sandals, messenger bags, and belts made from recycled bicycle tires.
When the New York Times uncovered the conditions in a leather factory where workers were sewing $400 purses for Kate Spade, working 70 hours a week without health benefits, the high-end designer insisted she had no idea about the conditions, and no control over her supplier factory. Allison Teich’s fashionable purses are considerably less expensive than Kate Spade’s, and Allison knows how her manufacturers are being treated.
Allison is the owner of Again NYC, a handbag company that transforms the vintage fabrics Allison finds at vintage stores, garage sales, and secondhand shops into several different styles of chic purses, all with a one-of-a-kind look.
“The factory that makes my bags is called Victor Handbag, and they are located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” says Allison. “I take all of my fabric over there myself and talk with the workers each time to ensure they know what I want. They aren’t made by some anonymous person, but by people I know, trust, and admire.”
8. Kitchen and dining
It’s wedding season, and gifts like cloth napkins (to save trees!), placemats, tablecloths, and other kitchen and dining items are popular choices on many couples’ gift lists. Many Fair Trade companies provide excellent sweatshop-free choices for products like these, made from beautiful hand-loomed or -knitted artisan-quality textiles.
For example, Global Exchange’s online Fair Trade store offers many such products: placemats handmade in Bali from vetiver, a locally grown aromatic root that is grown to protect deforested land from erosion; aprons made in Zimbabwe by mothers of children with disabilities (profits go directly to the producers); and hemp potholder/oven mitt sets sewn by a Northern Thailand village producer cooperative specializing in traditional patterns and techniques.
Global Exchange’s online store covers other categories as well (jewelry, purses, men’s and women’s clothing, and more), and also offers an online gift registry for weddings.
9. Bath and bedding
Also falling into the “not comfortable buying used”
category for most people, bath and bedding items are available sweatshop-free through several companies in the Green Pages, often made from high-quality organic fabrics that protect the workers in the field as well as workers in the factory, and keep harmful pesticides out of our environment.
The Pittsburgh-based Equita company, for example, offers organic shower curtains made in the USA, and organic bath towels and bedsheets from Loop Organics (also a member of our green business network), made in India under sweatshop-free conditions. Vivavi sells Loop products also, including their accent pillows and blankets, and Surround Ewe Sleep Systems offers organic wool sheets handmade in Wisconsin.
As with all of the items on this list, the companies listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. Searching for “towels” at greenpages.org yields 22 different companies, for example. Searching for “bedding” yields 70. The sweatshop-free marketplace is larger than ever before. When in doubt, search the Green Pages, and you’ll find what you’re looking for.