Little Green Dress- Made in America and Eco-Friendly Clothing

by - Tuesday, March 08, 2016


This week, the Bub and I walked to the mall for a quick errand, and we ended up there long enough for a soft pretzel (I love you Wetzel, pretzel genius) and some poking around the stores.

Wow, that was depressing (not the pretzel, obviously, the stores)!

It feels impossible to find anything that isn't sewn or made in another country with really sketchy labor standards. The Gap doesn't have one good option. Not one. If you are buying from the gap, you are endorsing unethical labor. Neither does Loft or JC Penney. Don't even get me started on Forever 21. It has all traveled a long way so we can get cheap clothes, made poorly, and that costs our ethics and environment a hell of a lot. 11 million tons of textile waste goes into landfills and the water each year. In our recent history, many people have died due to the unsafe working conditions of factories that make clothes for Walmart and others. This is everywhere, and it is a huge problem. And when you walk into these stores, it feels like there is no way around it.

No wonder so many people give up! If there are no good options, why even try?

Here's why: good options do exist. And we live in a magical time of the internet, where in the time you read about my Wetzel's pretzel (seriously, way better than Auntie Anne's- those ones are too greasy), you could already have bought yourself ethical underpants. Found them, browsed them, BAM! Ethical underpants.

Hundreds of stores, online spaces, and companies are out there improving fashion- it's a huge movement. People don't want to buy clothes that wreck the environment or enable the gross mistreatment of other human beings (and for good reason! Can we as Christians support this? How about just as citizens?). There's a market for slow, ethical clothing, and so many people are returning this call that two weeks in, I am still discovering new options every time I research (it actually is slightly annoying- talk about an embarrassment of riches).

In short, don't let places like Kohl's or The Gap fool you- you don't have to buy their crap anymore. You can get ethical clothes, organic clothes, fair trade clothes, and made in America clothes at every price point in every style. Don't believe me? Well, get ready for a fashion list of biblical proportions (this thing is LONG).

Before we get too far into this, let me point out the (sort of) obvious-

The most eco-friendly thing you can do is buy significantly less and make what you already have work.

The most eco-friendly things you can buy are USED. It is also the cheapest possible option, so yelp consignment stores near you and check them out. It's way more affordable, has usually traveled very short distances, and creates no new waste. We may have grown up where shopping at places like Goodwill meant you weren't making ends meet, but that isn't the case. Try a site like Thred Up, where you can shop all sorts of clothing that are all used- risky, but not any more than buying any other clothes online (and a whole lot cheaper).

You don't even have to buy it! Share clothes with your friends or join an amazing group on the Buy Nothing Project. Learn to sew or find a tailor and you can turn someone else's trash into something amazing (check out Refashionista if you need inspiration).

Now, sometimes certain things are more difficult to buy used or you have a particular piece you need and don't have the time to comb consignment stores. It happens. If you are going to buy something new, consider supporting companies that are making their clothes in ethical, responsible, and environmentally-friendly ways. Here are the priorities I am thinking about:

Made in America- The United States aren't perfect, but if your clothing is made here, you can feel certain that the person who made it was paid reasonable wages. That they weren't children, and their life wasn't in danger because of the conditions of the factory. Also very important, clothes made in the US have traveled much shorter distances than those made in Asian or South American countries, which means they used significantly less fossil fuels. Lastly, you worried about America? Want to make it great? Stop sending all your money to other countries and invest in quality pieces made here. Every dollar that stays in America is a vote to improve our culture and economy.

Fair Trade- Fair Trade is a growing area of clothing manufacturing, where the workers are paid much more than they would at other companies (sometimes working in co-ops) and work in much better conditions. These companies often take the form of some kind of social action and often employ and empower women. I think this is awesome, and often if they are socially-conscious, they are keeping the environment in mind as well. Another way to make every purchase count.

Eco-Friendly Clothing- Some companies focus on using all organic materials or using clean energy in the manufacture of their duds. Awesome. I'm in.

 Minimal Synthetic Fabrics- You know what those synthetic fabrics are made out of? Plastic! It is freaking everywhere, and it creates a ton of waste that won't go away. If you buy new, avoid these polyester, spandex, and the like! It's no good!

There are lots of resources available to get information on fashion, just like there are so many brands to choose from. My favorite is One Green Planet, who sets the whole thing up in a giant and easy chart.

Alright, so this one is LONG (please forgive the mostly short descriptions, but otherwise we will never make it through), but the next time you are thinking about clothes-shopping, promise me you will poke around here first. Because you have so many options. Because The Gap might be cheaper, but it's because they are doing wrong, do you really want to invest in that.

Here's the list (PJ's, Outerwear, Activewear, and Undies will come later) of over 50 options. I aimed it at women, but many of the brands make things for both genders; if you want more hot tips for USA-made men's clothing, you cannot do better than A Continuous Lean. Men always have a good option! I starred some of my favorites in case you need to start somewhere.

All American Clothing Company (USA)- Pants, Lounge Pants, and Tank tops all made in the USA.

All USA Clothing (USA)- This site, as you may have guessed, sells all made in America clothing! Lots of choices, mostly very affordable.

*American Apparel (USA)- This company makes all of their clothing for women, men, and babies in LA, sweatshop free. Their pieces are the simple basics you need after you realize Old Navy and the Gap's clothes are highly unethical. The downside is they have an awful (and well-deserved) reputation for their racy, exploitative imagery (because clearly the Terry Richardson aesthetic needed to persist) and even worse leadership. I only order online from them (and I have liked everything I have ordered), so I can sort of overlook the skeeviness, but let's not kid ourselves, this company serves up a big handful of bad with the good.

*American Giant (USA)- American Giant got on the national radar a year ago for their amazing hoodies, which had a waiting list for quite some time (they seem better prepared for all the orders now). I bought the boy American Giant sweatpants for Christmas, and he loved them. American cotton and American Workers.

Anvil (O,R)- T shirts. Looks slightly sporty to me.

Baldwin Denim (USA)- Based in Kansas City (how cool is that?) this denim company is cool, clean, and modern. Yet I will still wear them, and I am none of those things. Well done, Kansas City!

Bamboosa (O, USA)- Two shirts and a skirt made with organic materials, here in the US. Mostly, they do (great) things for babies, but their adult clothes look great and simple too!

*Blue Canoe (USA, EF)- Eco-conscious clothing made in the US. I think they have gorgeous pieces (bottoms, tops, dresses, and lingerie) that are really figure-flattering and stylish. Everything looks comfortable and soft as well. Check them out and consider trying a piece on sale, which is around 20 bucks.

Clothes Made from Scrap (USA, R)- T-shirts made from recycled cotton and recycled pop bottles. Before you feel weird about it, think about all the synthetic (plastic-based) fabrics in your wardrobe. In fact, I bet you could find some bad news just by checking the tags you have on (unless you do your blog reading in the nude, in which case, more power to you! Way to reduce!).

Do U Speak Green (R, O, FT)- GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified, this company makes t shirts and other clothing out of organic cotton, bamboo, and recycled fabric. It's testing materials are biodegradable.

Eileen Fisher (USA, FT)- This company makes their clothes in the US from fair trade fabrics made in Peru. Sharp, clean, and modern. Looks like what Audrey Hepburn might wear now if she were around and about 10 times more badass.

Elegantees (FT)- Elegantees hires women who survived being sex trafficked and are now free in Nepal. The goal is to reduce these women's -9*/89+vulnerability by battling poverty in Nepal. Their tops aren't just plain t-shirts (though they do have thse), but they have a wide variety of tops to buy. Who would have thought buying a t-shirt could be social action?

Emerson Fry (USA)- Minimalist clothes with some play ith volume.. Simple colors. Perfect for a capsule wardrobe? Most made here, and when it's not, it's well-marked and fair trade,

Esperanza Threads (USA, O)- This company started (in Cleveland, Ohio) as a response to sweatshops and the horrible state of fashion manufacturing. They sell t-shirts and sweats (as well as towels). Simple and clean look.

The Ethical Silk Company (EF, O, FT)- The Ethical Silk Company was started when its founder realized that they boil the silkworms to get the resource. Ugh! That is horrible! Instead, they use Ahimsa 'peace' silk, which is made with an eco-friendly process where no animals are harmed. They use a fair trade source in the Himalayas and manufacturer in Jaipur. 5% of their proceeds go to preventing homelessness and supporting centers where their clothing is manufactured.

* Eva Franco (USA)- Franco, a Romanian American, sells gorgeous and original dresses out of a Los Angeles factory. I have one Eva Franco dress, and I really love it. Well-made and interesting. Not basic, but very body-flattering. You can find her on Modcloth or at Anthropologie, among many other places.

Everlane (T)- This company has a minimal, modern aesthetic so they are about as on trend as anything on this list. They are also all about supply chain transparency, so you can actually look at their map and see where the clothing comes from. They make it onto a lot of ethical lists (and are also beloved because they sell really high quality clothes online only, so the prices are much better), but honestly, I am a little skeptical. They brag about being made at the "best factories" but is that the same as most ethical? Bright side is you can see exactly where each piece is made- t-shirts and belts are made in LA. I don't see them addressing ethics or the environment as a priority, so I might take this one with a big grain of salt. Better than nothing, but as you can see, other options abound.

Fair Indigo (FT, O, USA)- This site sells clothing items from multiple companies, but they have one clear mission, which I LOVE "create a culture of caring with every piece you wear." I couldn't have said it better myself. Lots of great stuff for Men, Women, and Babies and Kids. I love this company and their values (you can even shop by the values that matter most to you!), and I will FOR SURE be shopping at this site from here on. Great place to browse for yourself or for gifts.

Fair Trade Fashion (FT, EF)- This site sells a variety of companies and is a pretty big player in the slow fashion movement. Has everything from t-shirts to underwear, and I especially appreciate how concerned they are with waste and educating about fair trade labeling as well. Might be a good resource if you are just curious- you don't even have to buy anything! I have even been to their Seattle store, and it was filled with cool and practical things.

Go Travelwear (USA)- Simple, chic travel basics. Bring the US with you on your journeys (or just wear these anytime? Stylish and not wrinkly sounds like a win any day).

Good Society (EF, O)- These jeans, made in Italy, are made with 100% organic cotton and minimal environmental impact. Plus, I imagine that their European manufacture means every thread is super chic. I love the colors.

from Green Label Organics
Green Label Organics (USA, EF)- Sustainably-made t-shirts. They even have some eco-friendly messages! I couldn't resist this one.

Gypsy05 (USA, EF)- Gypsy05 is bohemian and colorful and the least lame tie dye I have ever seen. The heart of the company may be their swimsuits and cover ups but I think their dresses and tops are also gorgeous and summery, so I thought I would include them here as well. Every garment is dyed and manufactured in Los Angeles.

Hae Now (FT, EF, O)- These simple t-shirts and totes, for adults, teens, kids, and babies, are very simple. But they can be bought in bulk in needed and they are doing way more good than their Hanes counterparts.

Hempy's (USA, EF)- Hemp s a sustainable and gentle to the environment material- most of the products this company sells seem pretty butch, but I do like their t-shirts.

Here Today Here Tomorrow (EF, O, FT)- This London-based studio and store that takes a "holistic approach" to sustainability. They have a line of 100% organic, hand-knitted wool wear, which can be one of the trickier things to find, so even though they are in London, it might be a great resource. They work with a fair trade manufacturer in Nepal who also has a hardcore approach to keeping the water clean.

from Impression Purple
Impression Purple (FT)- This company uses traditional embroidery techniques to make gorgeous moden garments. Artisans in Pakistan create the clothes as part of the Ethical Stitch Program.

Indie Apparel (USA)- This site sells indie fashion designer items as long as they are made in the USA. Pretty wide variety, but some look really modern and unique.

Karen Kane (USA)- Since 1979, this company has been making "most" (??) of its clothing in their Los Angeles factory. Adorable designs that look like maybe one of those Southern girls who is always perfectly put together would wear it. Stylish but not overly edgy. Pretty. They also have a plus size line, which isn't as common (as it should be).

LA9 (USA)- Made in America dresses and tunics. Look like the kind of staples many women want in their closet.

*M Rena (USA)- My favorite tank tops in the world, made in LA, built to fit all, and you can get long ones that I could never go without again. A staple basic in my wardrobe. You can buy them on Amazon as well- so easy!

Maggie's Organics (FT, O)- This company has complete transparency about every step from cotton plant to leggings or t-shirt. Mostly casual wear and socks, but everything looks very soft and comfy.

Margaret Winters (USA)- Factory right in New York. Loosey goosey colorblock sweaters.

Mata Traders (FT)- This clothing company has SUCH cute clothes- I really love the patterns and the dresses. They employ women in India and Nepal and are fair trade certified. They work with co-ops and try to end the cycle of poverty for the women who work for them, offer fair wages, and a reasonable work day. You can read all about it on their website. Pretty amazing!

Matter (EF)- This company talks a lot about empowering the communities where their travel pants are made, but I can't see anything that actually refers to them as Fair Trade. I also see an investment in eco-friendly materials and zero-waste manufacturing, but I can't find any official content or certifications. So do your research before you go this route. On the other hand, the pants are really cool.

*Modcloth (USA)- Modcloth has a collection of Made in America clothing, shoes, and swimwear that gets updated daily. There is always something new, and I have really loved many of the pieces I have bought from them. Make sure you are on the Made in USA filter (it's the link here), because they offer other things as well.

Nanette Lepore (USA- mostly)- Nanette Lepore was one of the American labels (Zac Posen is another) that has committed to manufacturing at least some of their garments in the United States. Their swimsuits mostly aren't, but many of the bohemian and beautiful dresses are. A good switch in from many other brands that still only manufacture abroad (so if the clothes are that expensive, you have to ask what you are paying for if NOT safer and more ethical labor).

No Sweat (USA, FT)- One hundred percent United States Union-Made. One hundred percent fair trade materials. T-shirts and hoodies.

Nomad by Elroy (FT)- This company intends to maintain textile traditions that have been taken over by modern and industrialized manufacturing by buying their fabrics from small family businesses who continue textile traditions in various cultures. Elroy began as a economic development project in Indonesia, where the owner tried to employ locals to make clothing out of sustainable and upcycled fabrics.

Onno (O, EF)- This company makes their t-shirts out of organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo. They are also certified as carbon-free, which is pretty awesome. Their shirts are made in China, but their factory isn't shared and they strictly control the work day to be a healthy length with a real lunch break. That part is pretty cool.

*Pact (FT, O, EF)- We have lots of Pact stuff in our house- especially baby socks and underwear, and I have loved every single thing we have bought from them. They also sell simple clothing pieces like tshirts and a few dress designs. They are fair trade certified, use all organic cotton, and much is made sustainably (I especially remember reading on my The Bub's socks that they were made in a factory that used all wind energy. Super cool.

Patagonia (FT, USA)- This has to be one of the most mainstream stores on the list, and they have both Made in the USA t-shirts and a large selection of fair trade items. Perfect for hiking and sportiness and whatever it is that outdoorsy people do.

People Tree (FT, O, S)- People Tree has been a pioneer in fair trade fashion, and it has been in the business for 20 years. Most of these companies are pretty new to the game, so I was impressed. They invest in fair trade practices and are fair trade certified at every level of their production and were the first to have their cotton achieve the Global Organic Textile Standard at every level of their supply chain. They also minimize waste, don't use toxic dyes, and even travel their products in the ways which use the least fossil fuels. Plus, they have a lot of selection and I want to buy half their site.

Rachel Pally (USA)- Gorgeous dresses (including maternity and plus size, which they call white label) made in Los Angeles. Feels easy, not overwrought, yet it is still elegant. Also, super figure flattering in that way you find with clothing made by a woman for women. A good switch from something like Asos. Definitely steeper, but might be good for the right clothing. Could keep every wedding guest dressed for the rest of time.

Raven and Lily (FT, EF)- This woman- owned and led company employs 1500 workers at fair trade wages. They also won a B-Benefit Corporation (helping impoverished women improve and establish their livelihood, honoring traditional labor, and using eco-friendly practices). The owner also lives in a tiny house in Texas, which I think is a pretty fun fact. They also have some of the cutest pieces I have seen on this (LONG) quest for ethical clothing.

Recycle a Tee (EF, FT, R)- The big standout of this company is that it wants to take responsibility for the product, so when you are done with the shirt, no matter what state it is in, you can send it back for store credit, and they will recycle it! They also recycle 90% of the waste made in their manufacturing process. Cool company, cool premise.

Royal Apparel (US, O, R)- Royal Apparel is owned in New York but manufactures their product (and therefore makes new jobs) in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. They use organic cottons, bamboo, and hemps as well as recycled plastic bottles.They have basic tees and tank tops for all ages. Their aesthetic reminds me of American Apparel, but less rapey.

from Shabby Apple
Shabby Apple (USA)- Shabby Apple sells beautiful dresses and swimwear. The company is owned by a woman and made in America, so it is a great option. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen something from them as a bridesmaid dress, but I think a lot of their dresses would work for much more casual events as well.

from Shelby Steiner
Shelby Steiner (USA)- Portland-based. Super modern, minimalist, and just a little bit Pacific Northwest rough chic (it's a thing, I swear to you). Also, the sheer badassery of this model makes me want to shave my head, and then I remember I am not a model or a badass.

SOS Tees (USA, O)- Simple organic cotton grown in Texas and made in Texas! Keeping the whole supply chain right under their own noses.

Skreened (1/2 USA, EF)- This company screens t-shirts to order and it looks the majority of the shirts are made in the US (the rest are "ethically-sourced" but not fair trade certified). They also contribute to a number of green initiatives.

Stop Staring (USA)- These vintage-inspired dresses are super figure-flattering and adorable. Another fashion company based out of LA (go Los Angeles manufacturing!) I tried one once, and I couldn't pull it off, but I bet you can!

Style with a Heart (FT, O, EF)- This website is cool because you can buy clothing items based on which environmental issues are most important to you (including recycled and vintage! YES! Not including made locally/ something by geography, but all in all, I'm impressed). They have 100's of ethical and environmentally conscious brands to choose from, so there is a lot here. So much in fact that it makes me feel sad that this War and Peace of a fashion list is only the tip of the iceberg. On the brightside, look at a website like this, and by the end, you will be sure you can go the rest of your life without buying one unethical clothing item.

Symbology (FT)- Lots of really interesting and fashionable clothing made by women in India and the West Bank. They also stress preserving cultural traditions, using traditional techniques from the region the clothing are made, empowering those techniques to continue to move forward. They also use a lot of beautiful prints. I don't see anything about environmental impact though, so I can't speak to that in this case.

Synergy Organic Clothing (EF, O, FT)- This company works with a factory of about 150 women in Nepal, who are paid a living wage and receive bonuses. They use organic cotton and low-impact dyes as well. Very committed to clean water, solar power, and recycled paper as well! Plus, their clothes are really cute, yoga and otherwise.

Sympatico (USA, EF)- This company mostly sells loose blouses made of hemp, so natural fabric and some of the shirts could look plenty stylish with the right outfit. And if your look is granola, they have nailed it.

Tarn (USA)- Super outdoorsy gear. Made in Colorado.They only do a few things, but by all accounts, they do them well.

Three Dots (USA)- Based in LA, Three Dots has a female CEO and creative director. Their central business are simple essential t-shirts, but they have clearly expanded into sharp classic dresses, skirts, and other pieces. Borderline preppy, but the kind of simple, smart, wearable pieces made with high quality materials that might be perfect for a capsule wardrobe. Classics.

* Velvet by Graham and Spencer (USA- not all)- Perfect replacement for where you buy your basics, this company sells tank tops, maxi dresses, jeans, the works (just make sure what you pick is, because they aren't 100% US manufactured).. Any kind of piece that you could buy at Gap, they sell here, but way more chic. Also sold on Amazon and Anthropologie.

That's it! I am never blogging again! This post will retire me forever. Ok, you know I kid- I am on a mission! But it does move slow.

So, if you want to green your wardrobe, follow these three steps:

1. Buy Less- We all have too much clothes! Set yourself a limit per season and see what you actually think is worth buying, rather than being an impulse or a hope it will work out. Also, I know I often have so much clothes that I forget what I already have; donate clothes down to a manageable size, and you can keep a better eye on it.

2. Buy Used- Your smaller wardrobe should be more than 50% consignment if you can help it. Look up your consignment options, and if something isn't important enough to be your one garment per season, or important enough to be worth the larger ethical price tag, it must be time to get it used.

3. Buy Ethically- Use the list here to find options that are better for your skin, your ethics, and your world. I love these brands and I know there are tons more.

Have a fair trade or made in America brand you love? Any good advice on greening your clothes? Leave me a comment and share this list! If you want more shopping lists (including shoes, make up, paper towels, post-it notes, and WAY more) check out the Giant List of Shopping Lists.

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