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Polka dot blazer + plain white tee // We So Thrifty

Polka dot blazer + plain white tee // We So Thrifty

Polka dot blazer + plain white tee // We So Thrifty

This blazer is from the Salvation Army, and so is that necklace. Those jeans are from Plato’s Closet, and the shoes are pre-loved, too. But my shirt? My shirt is brand new, and I think it’s the start of something good.

As ya’ll know, I spilled a whole bunch of words on the Bangladesh factory a few weeks ago. I discussed some of my thoughts on the fast-fashion, and came clean about my own role in keeping the industry poisoned. Mainly, thrifting doesn’t hurt the industry, but it doesn’t fix it, either. I concluded I should try to use the money I save when thrift shopping on “items that are made by businesses that pay attention to human rights…and retailers that won’t wait for a building to collapse before they realize something is terribly wrong.”

Well, that all sounds very well and good. But in practice, I didn’t know where to begin. Would I have to start dressing like a yogi, and spending hundreds of dollars on hemp rompers?

On the very day I published that article, I came across this instagram from one of my favourite fashion-grammers, Karla Reed (that’s a thing, right? Grammers?). I always need basic tees in my wardrobe, to ground all the crazy crap I thrift, and so a few basic tees seemed a good place to start.

I did some research on Everlane, and I really liked what I found on their website. They want to be open and honest about how and where they make their clothing. However, I did find some of the phrasing on their “About” page a little ambiguous. So, I had a revolutionary idea – I emailed them. It went something like this:

…while I appreciate much of what I can find on your “About” page, I wonder if you’d be willing to provide any more specifics. First, you tout your tees as made in America, and list the majority of your offices in America, but also “seek out the best factories around the world”. What role do these global factories play? Where does the manufacturing process start and stop? I’m also pleased that you try for a “hands-on approach…to ensure a factory’s integrity. As an added assurance we also require stringent workplace compliancy paperwork.” Does this paper work ensure better working conditions, or any sort of conditions, for the employees? Safety measures, etc? More broadly, what does it mean to you for a factory to have “integrity?”

I’m very grateful to have been pointed in your direction, but this extra bit of information and detail will mean I can whole-heartedly endorse your products. Thank you, and I hope to hear from you soon!

I sent off the email, and expected some kind of automated form letter in reply. Instead, I was really impressed to get a good response from an actual person (named Sam!) within a week of my initial inquiry:

Hi Julie,

Thanks for reaching out and for the compliments. Most of your questions can be answered on the article that was released in the New York Times.

The biggest concerns around production for our team are (a) great conditions for workers and (b) high quality. As a first filter, we target facilities that are already working with other luxury brands. Our factories produce for The Row, James Perse, Prada, etc. Even so, we visit every facility to ensure that they are top-notch. While many of our products are produced in the U.S., we have decided to produce some things abroad. In sourcing, we found that the U.S. couldn’t match the quality we needed for some items. For example, silk made in the U.S. is usually quite messy in the stitching, so we decided to produce in China—a place known for silk.

We are a young company finding it important to develop a relationship with our factories and their owners. Regarding compliancy standards, we first seek out certification from SGS and follow accordingly with Labor Laws. We have been to our factories and are able to see first hand the conditions of the work place, combining that with the laws abided we do feel secure with these conditions.

Enjoy the tees and have a great week.

All the best,
Sam

The NYT article Sam linked to also offered up a few more encouraging words on how Everlane selects its factories:

Mr. Preysman says Everlane has long received questions from customers “around where the products are sourced from and how we can tell that the labor is good.” It is an inexact science, he said. But he added that he looks for factories certified by independent outside organizations and has executives spend time with a factory’s owner to see if he or she “is a decent human being.”

Additionally, just a few weeks ago, Everlane placed a call for photographers on Instagram. They’re offering five all-expenses paid trips to China, and allowing these five photographers to document their newest factory in China. I like that they have nothing to hide. Satisfied with these answers, I placed an order in good conscience for two large tees – one in black, and one in white. Their v-necks start at $15, and with shipping costs to Canada, my total order came to about $45. For items that I will wear every other day until their threadbare, that’s a bargain.

While my plain white tee might be the least exciting piece in this ensemble, it certainly has the most to say.

Polka dot blazer + plain white tee // We So Thrifty

Jeans: Plato’s Closet | $15.00
Blazer: Salvation Army | $7.99
Necklace: Salvation Army | $2.99
Shoes: Salvation Army | $5.99
Tee: Everlane | $15.00

Forward

June 8, 2013 — 4 Comments

hope

Wow, everybody.

Since I hit “publish” on last Friday’s article, it has easily become the most-viewed post I’ve written this year. That is amazing, because it shows people, you people, want to talk about this. You want to share it with your friends, you want to think about it, and you want fix it. You, like me, don’t really know how to do that yet, but you want to try.

This was, quite frankly, the first time I wrote about something that really matters on this blog, and I’m grateful for the reception to it. That said, don’t expect a huge tonal shift at We So Thrifty: For the most part, it will still be thrifting, pop-culture, and 90s nostalgia. But do expect to see some small attempts, every once and a while, to contribute to a fashion economy that saves instead of kills. I won’t drop this, and I hope you won’t either.

I left that article in an open-ended, hoping all of you would take some time to share your reactions with me. You did just that.  A few tweets, a few comments, and a few shares have already left me with more to think about, and I’m grateful for that too. I’ve compiled just a few of the great comments to that post, to give you a little to chew on as we all move forward with this. Thank you for your words, friends. Forward we go!

♦♦♦

…I have been reading about life in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh for quite a few years now and know it very well. I was excited to read about the backlash from the Bangladeshis in the country because no one can change a country from without, it must happen from within and without simultaneously, but primarily from within. What people endure in those countries is almost inconceivable to us, and so to act here in ways that drastically affect the clothing industry out of self-righteousness without understanding those countries in depth is irresponsible. If we can find out which companies act responsibly and choose their goods over others, we certainly can apply proper pressure. Supply and demand. That’s how it works.

– Stephanie

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…You’re right– like many people I also thought, Good thing I didn’t shop at [insert store here] this year. But not visiting a certain retailer doesn’t make me or anyone less guilty. Accidents can happen at factories any where in the world at any time regardless of the brand’s size or popularity. Real change can start with us– the consumers– because we often buy what we like, want, don’t really want, need, or really need without thinking too much about who made our product and his/her living and working conditions.

Linda

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…I have been trying to socially conscious about my shopping habits but it is hard to do. Just quickly: avoiding all overseas produced products and shopping “Made in Canada /USA” is not always the answer. Some overseas factories do produce goods in keeping with International Labor Organization (ILO) standards while there have been sweatshops busted in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary in recent years. Some companies subcontract to workers paid by the piece for basic sewing and assembly and they get much less than minimum wage.

I am trying to learn which companies to support and continuing to shop the second-hand market as well. It is worth noting however, that not all sellers on ebay or etsy, are ethical retailers, though the number of problematic ones is likely reduced compared to the norm.

– Rosee

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…This has really shaken me up, and I’m concerned that the lack of caring overall just continues to reflect our consumer culture mentality. As my pastor says, “I don’t want to be a consumer; I want to be a producer.” I’m going to take some time in the next couple of weeks and start a list of links connected with ethical shopping because I feel like people need alternatives. Yes, I shop secondhand, but there are some things (undies! socks! workout clothes!) that I would ALWAYS like to buy new, and it’s going to be more difficult to find these products from places I feel good about it instead of just popping into Target and aimlessly shopping.

– Amber

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PHOTO

When I started this blog, I started it for fun. I started it to talk about 90s nostalgia, pop culture, and thrift shopping. I didn’t start this blog to talk about sweat shops, fast fashion, and 1,127 dead people in a pile of rubble. Yet, here we are.

One thousand, one hundred, and twenty-seven.

That very long number is the number of people that perished in the Savar building collapse on April 24, 2013. You know the story by now: On April 23, a large crack was spotted in a Bangladesh Plaza that housed shops, offices, and a very large garment factory. Warnings to evacuate the building were heeded by some, but on the very next day, thousands of garment workers were ordered back to work and into the building. A few hours later, the building collapsed, and 1,127 people suffered a horrific death.

A crash that loud, and number that big, is hard to ignore. But with a crash that loud and a number that big, it’s hard to know what to say.

And yet, I feel a strange pressure to say something. I think that’s because nearly every article that attempts to offer some conscience-freeing solutions to this tragedy suggests more thrift shopping. By that measurement, people like me are star students. It’s easy, looking at my closet of 95% thrifted garments, to feel like a smug star student. Nearly every dollar I spent on clothing in the last two years has gone to the Salvation Army, BFM, or Talize. Looking at the images like this from Bangladesh, my inner monologue starts almost immediately: “Well, I didn’t buy any Joe Fresh last year. I don’t support slave labour. I can go back to reading TV recaps and stop feeling guilty.” But I don’t have a right to do that, because if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t start thrifting out of global concern. I started thrifting because I wanted to cool clothing for cheap prices. That right there is the very the same reason people go to Joe Fresh, F21 and Walmart. It’s the same game. That game has less harmful consequences when you play it in the thrift shop, but that mentality – more for less – is at the root of the fast fashion problem.

This problem needs addressing, and so, I’m going to address it. I’ll admit, I’ve sort of been waiting for someone else to say something, so I could just tweet a link to it and feel better. But sadly, the fashion blogging community has been nearly silent about this. Their silence comes from the fact that these cheaply-made garments are their bread and butter, and I’d imagine it’s hard to condemn the industry that fills up your side bar with ads. If it isn’t silence, then it’s a singular post stating that “my heart is with Bangladesh” and “I’ve donated what I spent on Joe Fresh to the relief fund”.

That last option is, of course, a good thing to do, but it’s not enough. What does it do to quell the production of the millions of garments still being produced by millions of people in other factories, in different countries? All the other retail giants (WalMart, Target, American Eagle) are still producing garments in buildings as packed, as inhumane, and maybe even as dangerous the one that fell down in Bangladesh. They just haven’t fallen down yet, so we haven’t heard the crash.  Outside the fashion blogging community, various bloggers and non-profits have attempted to provide some suggestions for consumers who are aghast at what the industry has come to. This article offers up some good ideas, and rightly points to thrift shopping as a good alternative (# 6), but again, I’m struck by the last two words in that sentence: “…save money!”

Donating money to the relief fund is good. Thrift shopping is good. Don’t stop doing these things, but they aren’t solutions if the bottom line is still about saving money. So what is the solution? What can we do to foster a more responsible garment industry?

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