Sweatshops make the prettiest things (or do they?)

Ever since I heard about sweatshops, I have been passionate about boycotting sweatshop clothing. I could probably give you a thirty-five minute lecture about why that really cute shirt you’re wearing sucks and leave you in tears. But um, guess what. Despite my passion and conviction, I haven’t been very good about boycotting sweatshop-made goods. Drop me in any mall anywhere with a good sale or a mother with a generous wallet (Hi, mom! Thanks for all the dresses!), and my ethics go temporarily out the window. I’ve gotten most of my good dresses this way.

Now that I am a grown-up and have a blog, it’s time to change my ways. So last week, I plugged my nose and dove into the online shopping world of sweatshop-free goods. I’m not talking etsy or eBay. I’m talking throw-it-in-the-online-shopping-cart-and-get-two-of-every(-earthtone)-color-because-you-can! I was directed to these shopping sites by a guide I found through whereamiwearing.com. All of the sites offer union-made clothes from right here in the U.S.A. or fair-trade clothes made by cool cooperatives abroad.

In the following pictures and captions, I present my very best findings from the sweat-free marketplace and compare them to their evil, unethical counterparts. It’s a fashion face-off! Who will win???

1. Shorts

~$52 + S&H, Justice Clothing
~$30 + S&H, Gap

Winner: Sweatshop pair, no contest. ATTN UNIONS MAKING SHORTS: It’s cool to make long shorts, but don’t do it in such a stiff fabric. Reserve the stiff fabrics for shorter styles (if you ever decide to venture in that direction). And actually, it’s cooler if you don’t make almost-capri length shorts. Ban together against that unfortunate trend!

2. Rain Boots

~$90 + S&H, Autonomie Project
~$80 + S&H, Chooka

Winner: It’s a tie. The sweat-free rain boots are the perfect shade to brighten up a dreary fall outfit–and rain boots totally give you a free pass for whimsy in any situation. I think you could wear rain boots with little pictures of kittens vomiting all over them to an executive meeting, and no one would bat an eye because, hello, they’re rain boots. I used to wear rain boots that made my feet look like giant misshapen ladybugs, and I only retired them because they got big holes in the soles. However, sometimes I just don’t feel like wearing cute/funny/strange/colorful rain boots. Enter the sweat-y pair. Smart, undercover rain boots that are better suited to keep the rain out from the top because they hug your calf just so. They make me want to speak in a British accent and hop over puddles instead of stomping through them. You can see why it’s a toss-up.

3. Dresses

~$30, Maggie’s Functional Organics
~$25, Forever 21

Winner: Not only is the top one is fair trade certified; fair labor certified; and made with organic cotton, it is also a beautiful alternative to wearing a potato sack. No, no, no, I do not like it at all. Unfortunately, it is the only fair trade dress I could find on the internet. On the other hand, sweatshop dresses are plentiful. I went to what is surely the worst offender, Forever 21. Everyone knows Forever 21 cannot be treating its garment-makers fairly because they sell everything for ridiculously low prices, but they have so many clothes all the time that if I go in, I am bound to buy something. If I weren’t avoiding Forever 21 with all my willpower, I would stop by tomorrow after work and try to find this maxi dress. It’s so colorful and so much more visually interesting than the fair everything dress.

4. Shoes

~$35, Püpore/Desde El Pie (via http://www.theworkingworld.org/)
~$60, Toms

Winner: The fair trade alpargatas are the clear winner in every category! In fact, the coolest thing I learned while doing research for this is that Toms shoes are actually ‘inspired’ by alpargatas, by which I mean, Tom (of Toms) stole the design from the Argentine gauchos without giving them any credit then created this whole shtick about giving poor children a pair for free every time a pair is sold. Maybe you’re like, ‘Hey! That isn’t a shtick! It really does happen!’ I’m not disagreeing with that, but isn’t it a little fishy that Toms are actually made in China instead of Argentina, where they have been made traditionally and where Tom first encountered them? Isn’t that just the typical cost-cutting, corporate move? Also, I’m no economist (or Confucius), but it makes way more sense to give living-wage jobs to parents than to give shoes to children. Good thing we can boycott Toms without giving up the aesthetic, and they even cost less!

And the overall winner is…

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that unethical companies don’t provide privileged consumers with more variety at lower costs, but this exercise showed me that while the options are limited, sweatshop-free companies/cooperatives are making strong headway (look at these coats and jackets!). And there’s always the alternative of buying stuff used. Yes, it’s more time consuming–and if I’m shopping at vintage stores, sometimes more expensive–but it is also sustainable and requires little research. Plus, how good does it feel to find the perfect dress at a thrift store?

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Sweatshops make the prettiest things (or do they?)

3 thoughts on “Sweatshops make the prettiest things (or do they?)

  1. hey kristy! it’s me, maslo! yr post about toms made me want to comment: did you follow the whole TOMS+focus on the family debacle? Apparently, TOMS has now cut ties, but I read this from a right-wing news source (I didn’t know when I clicked the link, but was tipped off by the author referring to “homosexual and abortion activists”)

    Anyway, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that about 2 weeks into my DC stint, I caved and bought a pair of toms. Why? Because every single pair of shoes I owned had given me blisters. Big, painful, swollen blisters. Where? On the backs of my ankles, on the bottom of my feet, on the tops of my toes. These were shoes that had never treated me thus in Portland, but my theory for their blister-causing-ness in DC is 1)I don’t have a bike here, so I walk more and 2)it’s hot and humid, which causes feet to swell and things to rub and makes friction, in general, more painful. So, I had heard about these toms shoes that are way too expensive and give a pair to a child in need and omg look at all the hip people wearing them. I did not give a single shit about that. I just cared that they were comfortable. And wow, they were. I had to buy them at Urban Outfitter (it’s right by the bus stop I take from work to home) and I went in there and put them on, and for the first time in 2 weeks, my feet weren’t screaming at me. So, I spent 1/6th of my paycheck, and bought them.

    I have since invested in other (less expensive, maybe sweatshop made) comfortable shoes. And the thing about toms in DC is that DC is hot. So hot. And so humid. And toms don’t let your feet breathe. So if you’re walking around all day in these, albeit, really comfortable shoes, your feet sweat. I don’t care who you are, your feet sweat. And that shit gets funky. Real fast. So now, I only break out the toms if I know I’m going to be walking around all day with no sitting-down breaks or if I have no other options. So that is my toms story. The end.

    I like your blog.
    I like you.

  2. Maslo, I feel you. Walking on pavement for most of the day five days a week has been really bad for my feet. No matter which of my shoes I wear—full-disclosure, almost all of my shoes were bought new and are sweatshop-made—my feet hurt. I can’t remember the last time my feet didn’t hurt. I’ve heard that Toms are really comfortable and have been wanting a pair since I started my job. If I weren’t avoiding retail stores like the plague, I’d probably be a guilty Toms-wearer today. The worst part is that the fair-trade alpargatas I featured in this post aren’t made in my size (5.5), so I can’t get those. I walked past a store that sells U.S.-made clogs, and I want to get a pair because I hear they are super comfy. The downside of clogs is that they are not super breathable, so I might get a pair of sandals, too. I haven’t had any luck finding ethical sandals, so I might cave and get sweatshop-made sandals because my feet hurt and because I can. Buying one pair of sandals won’t destroy the world and doesn’t cancel out any of the good choices I have made and will continue to make. I know this is true for you, too. Wear your comfy shoes happily and keep doing good work in DC. I’m so, so proud of you!

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