Ethical Fashion: Transparency

*If you read my blog via a reader, you may have seen a draft of this pop up last week. Careless keyboarding.

feb 6

shirt/Beacon's Closet PS
skirt/sweatshop 5-6 years
boots/CdC Hearts of Darkness - Rebel

Outfit scorecard: everything sweatshop is at the very least kindergarten age; the Cri de Coeur/Hearts of Darkness boots are PU (vs PVC) and made in an "ethical, sweat-shop free factory in China"

At one point in time, I was your typical consumer. I believed my assumptions about clothing brands without digging very deep. I'll admit that the brand for the skirt and tights above is Brooklyn Industries. In the early stages of Brooklyn Industries there was a lot of talk about how they used local designers. This lead to me to think that they also manufactured their clothing in Brooklyn (or least within the US), which is untrue. So for years I bought from Brooklyn Industries thinking I was "shopping local" when I wasn't. Ditto for Built by Wendy. I still find people who think these two local brands manufacture locally.

In some ways I’m still the average consumer or at least a type of average consumer. I think about what I buy. I expect to be able to buy clothes that are decent to animals, humans and the earth. But even when there are eco brands, you often have to drill down past their press releases, past blog posts about how eco they are, through their About Me pages to find out how they're even remotely eco and then decide if that is enough for you. I feel duped when brands or bloggers label something eco! and do not tell me how.

I get that I have a responsibility to shop according to my values. Being vegan is the easiest part of this. I just abstain from buying products made of animals or animal parts. All I have to do is look at the label. When I throw in the environmental and labor factors -- which means when I look at how companies deal with sourcing their textiles, manage their polluting and remnant waste, transport their goods for sale and treat their workers -- I might as well assume they all suck, for as much information as they’re willing to give me.

I understand how ethically-minded folks turn to a solely pre-worn wardrobe as the only viable option. Who can get a handle on the manufacturing side? I know it’s needed. While I think we have a massive stock of dubiously-made clothing items to swap and rehome, eventually the newly produced items being manufactured should be replaced with less harmful items.

The only company I’ve seen take a successful stab at this is Honest By. I first saw them mentioned with a vague write-up on a green fashion blog (meh). When I hopped over to their “about me” page, I was equally bored (noble but lacking details). But when I clicked on an item – something worthwhile appeared! It listed material sourcing (but not any waste issue information), labor specifications (but not confirming treatment, wages or conditions) and it gave me the carbon footprint of the item (as long as I reframed my brain to think in lightbulb-burning hours and car driving distances). The one thing I could not figure out was how much anything costs. I fear it's from the untouchable class of green clothing. Even so, Honest By is a step towards what all of us want. Hopefully it doesn’t end up being novelty.

Local Designer Side Note:

I understand the importance of supporting small designers, and that often they sink or swim based on where they manufacture their clothes. But I wish it was more obvious what their whole package was instead of assuming that small designer = good. Local store = good. Local crafter doesn't mean their source materials didn't come from overseas. I am not out to sink the small designer. But small designers and ethical manufacturing don't always go hand in hand, although there are many examples where they do. I just think it's something to know and based on that, make our value judgments accordingly.


  1. I've never seen anything like Honest By before; I am impressed that they even included their mark-ups on the price calculation page. That's something clothing retailers never, ever do.

    The "green" label is problematic. The whole idea that consumerism can be eco-conscious is just problematic; I'm thinking H&M's Conscious Collection here, and I am sure there are dozens and dozens of similar examples out there.

    My guess is that small and local designers would probably benefit from doing what they say they are doing and opening up; if people are willing to buy something other than mass-manufactured, it would serve everyone to be better-informed.

  2. I completely sympathize with what you're saying 100%. It's hard to try to dig deeper and not be able to find the information you want to find or get disheartened by not finding anything at all. But I also don't want to assume because that information is not there it means a brand is being disingenuous about their intent to make an ethical product or that the integrity of their work isn't there. I agree it is really difficult to negotiate the manufacturing side and it's so much easier for shoppers who are ethically minded to just do the 2nd hand route.But I'm honestly a little torn, I want to show consumers that there are just way more options than shopping main stream retail and there are new brands trying to make an effort for conscious living. Because really I think that is where the change needs to be. I think more people need to be inspired to be more thoughtful about their purchases and in turn companies will see that it matters to have ethical practices and benefits them to be more transparent.

    Ok, I'm babbling a bit. But are you in NY by chance?

  3. This was a cool post Jesse. And one that I agree with. Popular NZ designers charge a lot of money for their items - they're made overseas - so local shmocal. I'm still adhering to second hand clothing as my first option. And somehow have managed to successfully not purchase anything for myself this year! It's only been not even two months, but it's something. I liked with Jamiliah said about causing the companies to rethink on ethical practices....if only it wasn't so expensive to shop green for the average (over)consumer. (well, in NZ it is)


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