Category Why?

What is Quality Garment Construction?

what-is-quality-garment-constructionI think most of us can admit that we don’t know what constitutes a well-made piece of clothing. High prices certainly don’t mean high quality; many of the more expensive brands are made in the same factories of well known fast-fashion retailers! (Learn more about this in the book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost It’s Luster *affiliate link.)

As we’ve been talking about finding and buying garments that will last, we thought it would be helpful to talk about the signs of garments that are made with quality in mind. We have covered some of the signs of poorly made garments in our post ‘What is Fast Fashion?

Here are some marks of a high-quality garment:

  • Seams are straight, neat, sturdy, reinforced; the best quality seams are:
    • french seams – encases the raw edge of the fabric within another fold of fabric, reduces unraveling of seam edges and contributes to longevity of garment
      french-seam
    • bias bound seams – raw edges are encased in bias tape
      bound-edge
    • flat-felled seams – a seam made by placing one edge inside a folded edge of fabric, then stitching the fold down
      flat-felled-seam
  • Presence of the blind hem stitch on finer garments hems, like trousers or pencil skirts
    invisible-hem-stitch
  • Patterns line up at the seams
  • Extra fabric in the seams and hems to allow for tailoring as your body changes (because, let’s be honest, they do change!)
  • After multiple washes and wears, the garment holds its shape
  • Fabric choice is suitable for the kind of garment
  • Tailoring – the presence and appropriate locations of darts and yokes in fabrics without ‘give’
  • Presence of facing and interfacings to create sturdiness
  • Presence of linings which protect seams, protects the fabric and provides a neater silhouette on the body
  • Inclusion of extra buttons and notions like thread, sequins, beading, etc. that we can use to mend the garment later on
  • Visible high sewing stitch counts – the tighter stitching means stronger and more flexible clothing
  • Higher quality notions – for example, metal zippers instead of plastic, Mother of Pearl buttons instead of plastic buttons

When we purchase higher quality pieces we are often more compelled to take better care of them. We wash them more carefully, store them thoughtfully, and are more likely to mend them or tailor them. This mindfulness towards our clothing is a great step away from the fast-fashion mentality.

What do you think about how your clothing is made? Is construction quality something you have thought about before? Have you noticed poor construction in the clothing you own, and have you had any favorite pieces disappoint you by wearing out too soon? In terms of construction, what do you look for when you are buying clothing – and after reading this piece, is there anything new you’ll start looking for?

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How To Shop Ethically on a Budget

ethical-shopping-budgetEthical fashion isn’t cheap, and shopping ethically without breaking the bank can be a challenge. We’ve talked about the human cost of fast fashion, which may motivate you to WANT to purchase ethically, but it’s hard to make the switch from a lifetime of deal hunting, bargains and sales. Shifting an entire ideology (cheaper is better) is jarring. We don’t deny that it is more work to shop ethically on a budget, but it’s not impossible. Sharing ethical options and brands was one of our goals when we started #DressWellDoGood.

Clothing Swaps

Clothing swaps are a lot of fun and relatively easy to organize with a potentially big pay off. We hosted our first one recently; you can check it out here. This kind of event can be free, costing only your time to organize or to find a swap that is already in motion. Either way you have a chance to give away the clothes that you are no longer wearing regularly so they can have a new life with someone else and you can add pieces to your wardrobe that you may have been searching for!

Thrifting

Beth and I are big fans of thrifting. This is the easiest way to make an ethical change on a budget. Of course the downside to this is that it takes time and can be tough to do with kids. Depending on where you live you probably know of some local thrift stores that you could visit. In Austin, one of my favorite places to go is the Savers off Burnet Road. It takes a while to go through racks but their stuff is pretty well organized and I have found some of my favorite pieces there (and almost all of my kids’ shoes). If you can’t get to a thrift store without your kids, another great option is using an online thrift shop! Our favorite is Thred Up* because everything you get from them is in great condition, it’s easy to search with their app, and returns are free if the piece doesn’t work out for you.

Buy Basics Ethically

We all have our basic items that we need to replace somewhat regularly. These items tend to be cheaper than other ethical pieces and are a great way to add ethical pieces to your wardrobe that you will wear all the time. Here are some of our favorites places to buy basics:

Shop Ethical Sales

Find brands you like (can we recommend starting with our ‘brands we love‘ list?), sign up for their newsletters and/or follow them on social media to shops their sales. Most of these brands have amazing end of the season sales or do fun flash sales – that is how I got my Ssekos* at half off! It takes patience to wait for a sale, but it’s a great way to continue to shop ethically and stay closer to your budget.

Less is More (Ethical)

A big part of the shift to ethical fashion is not just switching to buying lots of ethically made clothes but to be more thoughtful about how much we are consuming. Consider stopping the consumption of fast fashion and putting the money you would have used to buy 5 items to buy one ethically made item. This cuts down on the amount of clothing you are consuming and makes you more thoughtful about what pieces you really need or want.

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Please join us in the conversation below or over on Instagram to share your thoughts! If you are enjoying this discussion, please share our posts with your friends!

 

What Fabrics Do We Wear?

With the loss of sewing our own clothing, most of us also lost the ability to recognize the differences between fabrics. When people were sewing their own clothing, much time and thought was put into fabric selection since the finished garments had to endure many years of use and reinvention. Since we no longer construct our own garments, the knowledge of different fabrics has slipped away as well.

As we’ve shared before, we believe that a key part of ethical fashion is buying clothing that we plan to get a lot of use out of, clothing that won’t end up in the trash or donation pile a few months down the road. To do so, we need to select fabrics that we will enjoy wearing – that feel good next to our skin – and that will last.

Fabrics can be broken down into two main categories, and then further broken down within those.

Two main types of fabric fibers:

Natural Fibers

  • Plant-Based
    • Cotton
    • Linen (Flax)
    • Hemp
    • Jute
    • Ramie
  • Animal-Based
    • Wool (sheep)
    • Cashmere (goat)
    • Alpaca
    • Silk (silkworms)
    • Angora (rabbits)
    • Mohair (Angora goats)
    • Leather (cows)
    • Down feathers (ducks and geese)

Chemical Fibers

  • Semi-Synthetic
    • Viscose/Rayon
    • Modal
    • Lyocell
    • Bamboo
  • Synthetic
    • Polyester
    • Nylon
    • Acrylic
    • PVC

Natural Fibers

Natural fibers have the benefit of being made from renewable resources and being biodegradable. Many of these fabrics also tend to feel comfortable. The plant-based fibers generally breathe well and allow air to circulate, while wool, especially in knits, can do an excellent job of keeping us warm.

Let’s discuss the two plant-based fibers that are most common:

  • Cotton is typically used for fabrics that will lay close to the skin, like underwear. It absorbs moisture and can help keep you cool in warmer seasons. Pima cotton, which is grown in the southwestern US, is a particularly durable type of cotton due to its extra long staple. The downsides of 100% cotton garments are that they have very little elasticity, little resiliency (if it shrinks, or stretches, it stays that way!), and can wrinkle and pill easily.
  • Linen, one of the oldest textiles, requires only 8% of the energy that is required to produce polyester, and requires less water, energy, and chemical pesticides and fertilizers than either polyester or cotton. It is best known for its breathability in hot climates. Because of its molecular structure, linen cloth can absorb as much as 1/5 of its weight in moisture before giving a feeling of being damp.

And here are the three animal-based natural fibers that you come into contact with most often:

  • Wool is traditionally used to keep us warm! Think woolen long johns, socks, sweaters and peacoats. Wool is an amazing fiber that resists wrinkles and dirt. It is highly resilient – sometimes referred to as having a  ‘memory’ of shape – and it can absorb 30% of its weight in moisture before feeling damp, which makes it an excellent choice for winter wear that comes in contact with rain or snow. Wool from Merino sheep is considered ‘high end’ wool because it is one of the finest and softest from any sheep.
  • Silk is made from fibers of the cocoon of the Chinese silkworm. Silk is highly absorbant, breathable, and soft against the skin. Peace or vegan silk is made from the worm casings gathered only after the moths have emerged.
  • Leather is a controversial material. While leather is durable, flexible, long-lasting and beautiful, it has a huge environmental impact from the chemicals used in the process of tanning. Additionally, there is the added concern of animal welfare.

While much about natural fibers is good, it’s also worth noting that all natural fibers have to be farmed, just like our food. This leads to problems similar to those we see in the food industry: high usage of chemicals that run off into our water supply, disregard for the safety of workers, and lack of respect for the land. One of the most notable issues is that conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop, contributing to environmental contamination on a large scale. 99% of all cotton is treated with 25% of the world’s insecticides, which is pretty extraordinary. There are organic options in all of the natural fibers, which contribute to less pesticide exposure to the farm workers and less environmental contamination.

Chemical Fibers

Chemical fibers come in two very different types. Semi-synthetic fibers, while still often heavily processed, can come from recycled or renewable materials. Unfortunately, the method of production for these semi-synthetics is still heavy with chemicals to break down the materials (like bamboo or recycled plastics) to a fiber-like and usable state. They are also commonly produced in countries without strict water regulations, and the untreated chemicals are often deposited into local water systems, contaminating drinking water. Often these fibers are marketed as environmentally friendly since they come from recycled or renewable materials, but it is worth noting that there is a high environmental impact from the chemical process required to produce the fabric.

Completely synthetic fibers are even more problematic. Polyester comprises over 40% of all fabrics currently made, and that number is rising due to fast fashion. It may be low maintenance and cheap, but there is much more to it than that.

We have lamented the woes that polyester and other synthetic fibers bring on us, like the 60-70 million barrels of oil their production requires each year, that they take over 200 years to decompose in landfills, and that they are essentially plastic worn on the skin. Yes, that’s why you sweat profusely when wearing polyester; you are essentially covered in a non-breathing plastic wrap. Nylon production releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s 300 times more environmentally damaging that CO2. Phthalates are concerning chemicals often found in artificial leather and other plastic PVC clothing.

What Now?

When it comes to what fabrics to purchase, there’s not one clear-cut answer (pun intended). In terms of environmental impact, natural fibers are generally the better choice, especially if we look for organic fibers and pay attention to how and where the fiber in our clothing is produced. Personally, I generally enjoy the feel of wearing natural fibers more. But it’s good to keep in mind that the production of any type of fiber will have a significant impact on the environment and on the workers who produce it.

One of the best ways we can make ethical choices here is simply by steering away from the fast-fashion mentality: by purchasing fabrics that we intend to get a lot of use out of, and spending the extra time and money to select fabrics we will enjoy and that will hold up well. In fact, this principal is pretty central to all our ethical fashion choices: whenever possible, learn before buying, and buy items that you want to care for and keep for years to come.

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We want to know if you have spent any time thinking about the different types of fibers that we wear everyday. Please join us in the conversation below or over on Instagram to share your thoughts! If you are enjoying this discussion, please share our posts with your friends!

Job or No Job?

job-or-no-jobAs we continue on this  ethical fashion journey, there’s one question about fast fashion that we frequently hear.  We want to take some time to address it because it’s an important conversation to have.

Here’s how it often sounds:

“Aren’t fast fashion companies that source to the developing world actually doing some good? After all, they are helping boost employment in poorer areas and helping workers who wouldn’t otherwise have any work.” We also hear the question put like this:

“Isn’t it better for someone in a developing country to have a job where they are underpaid and mistreated than to have no job at all?”

Although we feel strongly about our answer, it can be a bit tricky to put into words.  It boils down to this:

Yes, a bad job can be better than no job- sometimes. But workers deserve better. It would take relatively little to dramatically improve working conditions, and we believe that companies sourcing to the developing world have a moral obligation to treat their workers fairly.

In other words, something may be better than nothing, but when that something isn’t good enough, and when it’s in our power to improve it, we have a moral obligation to do better.

Here’s how I think about it.

Do factories that exploit their workers still create jobs? Yes. It’s true that, for many workers in developing countries, getting a job at a garment or sportswear factory is better than some of the alternatives – that is why so many depend on these jobs.

In the worst of these jobs, are the working conditions acceptable? Is it fair to treat workers this way? No. The fact that people are desperate isn’t an excuse to exploit them. Workers aren’t getting their fair share of the benefits they are creating for the big companies. We welcome the fact that millions of people are earning a wage. However, this alone is not enough to lift them from poverty if employers can hire and fire at will, deny union rights, avoid paying sick leave or observing maternity rights, and pay low wages that drive people to work inhumane hours just to survive. For many workers, these jobs carry devastating hidden costs, such as poor health, exhaustion and broken families, all of which are unacceptable and avoidable. Everyone wants and is entitled to a quality job that pays “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his [or her] family an existence worthy of human dignity.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23(3)).

Could companies still make a profit if they treated their workers better? The answer is surprisingly simple: they could, easily. To raise the wages and treatment of workers in their overseas factories to levels described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.S. companies would need to raise costs (or decrease profits) by pennies, not dollars, per garment.

In her book Overdressed, Cline says “Garment workers overseas are still only earning about 1 percent of the retail price of the clothing they produce. The reality is that their wages are so low and many U.S.  clothing companies’ profits are so high that brands could afford to raise wages significantly.”

“The Worker Rights Consortium has found that garment worker wages could be doubled or even tripled with little or no increase to the American consumers” (Overdressed, 159).

I was astounded to read this. She continues, “Major clothing brands can dramatically improve workplace conditions and raise wages for factory workers in countries like Bangledish – where the current hourly wage is 21 cents – without passing those costs on to consumers. In fact, the Worker Rights Consortium has found that it would take as little as ten cents per garment to make necessary improvements to Bangledesh’s 4,500 factories” (Overdressed, 226).

Whether a company takes a small cut in profit in order to keep consumer prices low and sales high, or passes the increased cost on to consumers, we’re talking about numbers like ten cents. We’re talking about an amount that clothing companies, and consumers, could absorb.

So, why are we trying to spend our money only on ethical fashion? It isn’t that this is an impossible task, paying workers a fair wage for the job they are doing. But big companies are not going to make the change unless consumers demand it. It kind of makes me feel better to tell myself that my bargain purchase is helping someone keep a job, but the reality is that I am telling these companies that I care more about spending $3 on a tee shirt or $15 on a dress than I do about how they were able to make those clothes for so cheap.

When I give my money to a company that exploits its workers, I am telling that company that this business practice works, that mistreating workers to cut costs is an effective way to make a profit. I am encouraging that company to continue what it’s doing.

But we can also use our choices for good. By taking our business elsewhere, we tell companies that exploit their workers that we do not approve of, and will not support, these practices. If enough consumers give their business only to companies that treat their workers ethically, it will become clear to the fast-fashion companies that exploiting their workers is costing them business. If this happens, such companies will have a clear financial incentive to treat workers better.

Let’s use our buying power to support people that are doing good things and to send a message to all companies that ethics matter.

This is hard stuff to talk about. Something that really helped me was sitting down with a few friends and watching the True Cost movie. This really opened my eyes to what is going on in the clothing industry and educated me in areas beyond fair wages. It helps to hear the stories of people who are being affected by our choices.

I often feel like I can’t do anything to change the world, but choosing where I spend my money is an easy way to me to make a difference in something that I would be doing anyway. You can make a difference too.

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Join us in the conversation! Follow us on Instagram at DressWellDoGood. Make sure to use #DressWellDoGood in social media and sign up to receive our posts via e-mail (you can sign up on the sidebar to your right), or add www.thinkliz.com to your RSS blog reader (we recommend Feedly)! If you are enjoying this discussion, please share our posts with your friends!

What is a Kid’s Ethical Wardrobe?

kids-ethical-wardrobeKid’s ethical clothing is an area that I have been pondering since we starting delving a little deeper into the ethical fashion conversation. How do you make ethical clothing choices for children? Is this even possible? This is hard because kids are exceptionally hard on their clothes (rips, stains, tears, popped seams, torn buttons) and grow out of their clothes at an incredible pace. Those two barriers make it especially difficult to justify spending the extra money that is required for purchasing ethical clothing. So what can you do to begin working towards a more ethical kid’s wardrobe? We have a few ideas for you.

Clothing Swaps

Clothing swaps are not just for adults (although they are certainly fun for adults)! Organizing a clothing swap with neighbors or within your school community is an easy and essentially free way to get clothing for your children. Many communities, churches, and schools already run kid’s clothing swaps, so check out what’s happening near you. At my son’s school, some of the parents organize a uniform swap at the end of each school year to make sure families are ready with next year’s sizes. This is not a perfect solution because as I mentioned before, kids are hard on their clothes! Sometimes my son’s clothing is so stained, torn and abused that it isn’t fit to be swapped!

Thrifting

I love ThredUp (*referral link) for shopping kid’s clothes. You know the clothes you will receive from them are in generally good condition. The site’s interface makes it easy to search for specific items; I have used their extensive filtering options to find uniform pieces for my son. But don’t stop at online thrifting; your local thrift stores have tons of children’s clothing at inexpensive prices. Kid-specific thrift stores generally only sell clothing that’s in good condition (which, I have noticed, often makes the boys’ section a little thin!); googling “kid thrift store [your city]” should point you to some options near you.

Make it last

As fast fashion has become the norm in our culture, we have lost the art of mending. In generations past, when clothing was a significant part of your budget, if something stained, ripped, or a button popped off you fixed it! Mending your kid’s clothes may be out of your comfort zone, but making clothing last longer is central to the ethical fashion idea. Clothes should not be treated as disposable.

Make it yourself

I know, this may not be for everyone. Not everyone sews or even wants to sew! But if you want to try, this is a great option because YOU are the quality control. By selecting durable fabrics and sewing construction methods, you can make long-lasting clothing for your child.

Shopping ethical kids brands

As you may have started to pick up by now, there are many ethical clothing options for adults. Unfortunately, we have not found as many accessible options for kids’ clothing. This is likely because the labor cost of making children’s clothes does not decrease because the size is smaller. We recommend asking grandparents or others that are willing to buy items at a little higher cost to help! If you know of more brands that we should know about, please let us know in the comments!

$ – Reasonable; $$ – Moderate; $$$ – Expensive

A few brands that we know of:

American Apparel – Made in the US. I don’t love recommending this brand for a number of different reasons (some of which are summed up succinctly here), but they do have affordable baby and kid’s clothing that also include uniform options (like polos for $8, which are part of my son’s school uniform). $

Evan Brooke – Quality garments for young girls made ethically and in effort to FIGHT human trafficking. $$

The Eternal Creation Story – Australia-based and fair trade. They have brightly colored fun clothing for boys, girls and babies. They also have some school uniform options. $$

Hanna Andersson – Durable, some organic clothing with Swedish Roots. Babies, boys and girls. $$$

Mikoleon – They utilize up-cycled denim: pre-consumer denim waste is ground back into fiber, spun into new yarns and woven or knitted into new sustainable and exclusive fabrics for boys, girls and babies. They are 100% cotton, chemical free, dye free, and fair trade. $$$

Nena Kiddos – Based in Utah and Guatemala, they have items for babies, girls and boys. They work with Guatemalan artisans to create hand-woven textiles. This provides Guatemalan mothers with honorable incomes and time to care for their children as they work from home. $$$

Nui Organics – Organics. Made for babies, boys and girls. $$$

Nula Kids – Adjustable styles designed to fit through growth spurts from ages ~2-4, 4-6, or 6-8 with durable fabrics for little girls. Made with organic cotton and low impact dyes in Los Angeles. $$

Sudara – They provide safe, sustainable jobs to help women in India make their way out of the sex trafficking industry, and stay out. T-shirts and pajama pants for boys and girls. $

Tea Collection – They work only with reputable manufacturers who follow high standards of good working conditions and no child/slave labor. Babies, boys and girls. $$$

Texas Jeans – 100% made in the US from fabric through production. Made for boys and girls. $

Two Crows for Joy – Made in the US, many items are organic. Babies, boys and girls. (They have some items suitable for uniforms.) $$

Winter Water Factory – Organic and made in the US (fabric and production). Bright, screen printed patterned basics for boys, girls and babies. $$

Wildy Co. – Sourced in LA and sewn in North Carolina. Many of their fabrics are made in the US as well. They have the basics covered for boy and girls at great prices. This is by far a favorite brand! $

Utilize the teaching opportunity

jude-sudara-pajamas

One last thing I’d like to add is that shopping intentionally for children’s clothing creates an opportunity to share with your children why this is important to you. I like to tell Jude the stories behind his clothes, when I know them. For example, when we purchased new pajama pants for him through Sudara, I told him that the money we spent on his new pants went to ensure that a woman in India had a steady job to keep her safe and to provide for her family. It is important to help our children understand that real people make our clothes and those people matter to us.

 

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Don’t forget to follow us over on Instagram at @DressWellDoGood. We post ethical outfits of the day, questions to our followers and more. We would love to have you join us as part of the conversation over there!

Inaugural #DressWellDoGood Clothing Swap

austin-clothing-swap-rackEllie and I recently hosted our Inaugural #DressWellDoGood clothing swap and it was a great success!

Not only are clothing swaps a fun excuse to get together and spend time with friends, they are an economical, ethical, and eco-friendly way to expand your wardrobe. They’re like thrifting for free!

Here’s what we did for our swap:

We asked our friends to clean out their closets and bring any clothing, shoes or accessories that were in good condition. We borrowed several garment racks and had our friends hang up their clothes as they arrived. (Next time, we will ask our guests to bring their clothes on hangers! We ran out of them very quickly!)

We had 12 people attend, which seemed like a good number. More than that would have been harder to organize and direct. But by having 12 people, we ended up with a great variety of sizes and styles!

Once all of the clothing was laid out or hung up, we set people loose to ‘shop’. Folks grabbed anything that looked interesting to them and tried it on. We saw a lot of handoffs: “Oh, this didn’t fit me quite right but it would look great on you!” and “This looks like your style. Here try, it on!” which made the event very encouraging. It feels good to have your friends suggest clothing items for you!

We had a couple different areas available for changing and provided a full-length mirror so everyone could clearly see how things fit them. As people claimed items, they put them in a bag they brought with them so they wouldn’t be grabbed by another swapper by mistake.

rachel-heather-clothing-swap

When the swapping was complete and everyone had something they liked to take home, Ellie and I went through all of the remaining clothing, sorting into two piles: send to ThredUp (*referral link) and donate to Goodwill. We ended up with two ThredUp (* referral link) clean out bags very full of barely worn clothing, and 4 trash bags full of clothing to donate to Goodwill.

If you don’t want to organize a swap on your own, there are many clothing swaps that are already happening! You may be surprised what you find if you search for “<the name of your city> clothing swap”! In Austin, even our library system hosts a clothing swap!

Tell us if you have participated in a swap or if you are planning on hosting a swap! If you already have, share a photo of something you swapped on Instagram with the hashtag #DressWellDoGood! We would love to have you join us in this ethical fashion conversation! And of course, don’t forget to follow us over on Instagram at @DressWellDoGood and subscribe to receive blog posts via e-mail.

What’s in Ellie’s Closet?

whats-in-a-closetI think a lot about clothes. I think about what I am going to wear. For three hours every day I think about what clothes I am going to send to my Stitch Fix (* affiliate link) clients. And since I read Elizabeth Cline’s book Overdressed (* affiliate link) I have been thinking about clothes even more.

Every year Americans throw away an average of 68 pounds of textiles per person (Overdressed, 122).

One thing Overdressed opened my eyes to is our immense over-consumption of clothing. There is no doubt that I have succumbed with the rest of America to the fast fashion phenomenon. I buy a lot of clothes. I also throw away a lot of clothes. Every time I clean out my closet I have another garbage bag (or two!) full of clothes to either donate or throw away. Something is wrong.

In her book, Cline goes through her own closet and creates an inventory of everything she owns (not including undergarments or socks). It made me wonder what was in my closet. Well, I did my own clothing inventory. I’m going to be transparent and tell you what I found (grace, people).

I own 167 items of clothing.

I own 35 shirts! I could wear a different shirt every day for a month and still not wear them all.

I have 13 pairs of shorts. Now, I live in Texas so I wear shorts a lot, but not 13 times between laundry cycles.

I have 10 pieces of work out ‘gear’. Friends, I’m not sure I have worked out 10 times in the last year.

My closet holds 24 dresses or skirts. A couple weeks ago I bought a new dress, and my husband asked “Another dress? Don’t you have a ton of dresses?” Don’t tell him I said this, but he may have a point.

Finally, I got to the one part of my wardrobe that I always feel is lacking, the piece of my outfits I never am very satisfied with: shoes. I thought that when I looked at my shoes I wouldn’t find very many. Wrong! I have 21 pairs of shoes! They may be shoes that I don’t like, but I own a significant number of shoes.

Deep breath. I have a lot of clothes.

Closet Clean Out, Inventory and AssessmentWhat about how ‘ethical’ my clothing was?

I also checked to see where each piece was made and how I had acquired it.

Nearly half of my clothes were made in China. I only have 8 pieces that were made in the U.S.

Cline mentions this in her book: “The United States now makes 2 percent of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50% in 1990.” (Overdressed, 5) It really saddened me to read about the decline of the garment industry in the US in favor of cheaper prices, and I know that I have been a part of that. I am one of those people who buys $3 tees and then can’t wait for someone to compliment them so they can say, “only $3!”

I also documented how I had acquired each piece. I had purchased 61 pieces at chain retailers. 36 pieces were thrifted. 31 pieces were clothes that were given to me by friends after their closet cleanouts (lucky me!). 26 items were given to me as gifts. 12 items were ethical purchases I had made. 1 piece was handmade by me.

How did taking this inventory help me?

First of all, it helped me pare down my wardrobe as I evaluated whether I should keep each item. After the inventory I added 22 pieces of clothing to my swap pile.

Additionally, I think I have a better grasp of what I own. The numbers feel much weightier to me than the image in my head of my clothing in the closet or dresser. The next time I go to purchase something I hope I remember that I have 19 dresses hanging in my closet. The next time I say “I really think I ‘need‘ more shirts to complete my wardrobe,” I hope I remember the number 35.

After holding each item, I was reminded that I really do like the things that I own and that everything gets regular use (except maybe the work out gear). However, I was disappointed with the quality of a lot items. When I do make purchases in the future I would like to be more aware of quality, versatility, and where each item was made.

What’s in your closet?

We challenge you to take inventory of the clothes that you own! Organize a swap with your friends so you have a plan to pass your clothes on to others and fill in the holes in your wardrobe without buying anything new. We want to hear what you find, so make sure you post pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #DressWellDoGood.

What is Fast Fashion?

Why is fast fashion bad?If you’ve been around the ethical fashion conversation for any length of time you may have heard the phrase ‘fast fashion’ thrown around. But what does ‘fast fashion’ really mean?

‘Fast fashion’ comes from the unsustainable practice of producing and purchasing clothing as if it were disposable.

This clothing tends to be high-volume, low-quality, and super-trendy. It’s the poorly made items that are meant to last one season, made by companies like Old Navy, Zara, Target, Forever 21, H&M, and Walmart. If you feel like you purchased an item cheap enough that you don’t mind throwing it away when it rips, odds are that the item is a result of fast fashion.

That clothes can be had for so little money is historically unprecedented.

Clothes have almost always been expensive, hard to come by, and highly valued; they have been used as an alternative currency in many societies. Well into the 20th century, clothes were pricey and precious enough that they were mended and cared for and reimagined countless times, and most people had only a few outfits that they wore until they wore them out.

In the past few decades, the cost of clothing has decreased dramatically. “Retailers today are now forced to sell exactly the same products for less than they did fifteen years ago. In 2008 the New York Times tracked the price of deflation in fashion and found that the price of Liz & Co. capri pants had fallen by a third and a Lacoste polo shirt by almost a quarter. A pair of Levi’s 501 jeans sells for $46 today, about $4 less than it was in the late 1990s, when adjusted for inflation. Of nine items that declined in price, the Times found that those that dropped the most were basics like underwear and t-shirts, by as much as 60 percent,” (Page 32, Overdressed; Eric, Wilson, “Dress for Less and Less,” New York Times, May 29, 2008). H&M’s $4.95 dress released in 2010 sparked the Vogue article, ‘Do I get a Coffee, a Snack, or Something to Wear‘? Is that something we should be asking?

Every other basic commodity has increased in cost over the years.  Yet the price of clothing continues to drop.

What do we sacrifice so that clothing can be so inexpensive?

Money is saved in a number of places when you purchase a fast fashion item:

  • Fabrics that are used in fast fashion clothing are lower quality, tending towards thinner fabrics with less natural fiber content and more polyester or other synthetic fibers. These lower quality fabrics are quicker to show wear, quicker to fall apart, harder to mend, and don’t hold their shape over time.
  • Fast fashion clothing is produced with low quality construction methods.  Sometimes this is done on purpose so that you will have to purchase more through a concept called planned obsolescence. For example:
    • using thread that is too thick for the fabric so it will unravel or tear the fabric after several wears
    • using the wrong type of machine stitch for the type of fabric (example: using a stitch that has no stretch on a stretch jersey fabric) – this leads to the thread ‘popping’ and unraveling
    • sewing in buttons, zippers, or other notions without tacking thread when completed, leading to quick unraveling of these notions
    • using fewer stitches per inch in the seams (wider gaps between stitches), leading to quickly unraveling seams
    • not including extra buttons/sequins/other details in seams
  • Many of these fast fashion companies have tremendous economies of scale, which means the orders they places are massive, enabling the factories to give them a lower price per item.
  • There is little to no regard for matching patterns at the seams because it would take more fabric to achieve this detail. Overall, fast fashion has a lack of attention to detail because details take more time and money to achieve.
  • Linings are left out of work pants, blazers, jackets, skirts, or other clothing items that would typically require a lining.

Most troubling, fast fashion companies cut costs by paying workers as little as possible. A huge savings occurs when workers are exploited through lack of a fair wage, unsafe work conditions, enslavement, or the use of underage workers. These workers are often hidden in the production chain when ‘brand approved’ factories contract work out to other factories that do not work directly with the brands.

Mass produced clothing or fast fashion, like fast food, fills a hunger and need, yet is non-durable, exploitive of the environment, dangerous to those in the garment industry, and wasteful.

We have discussed the reaction to fast fashion a little bit already. Slow fashion encourages taking time to ensure quality production, giving value to the product, and contemplating the connection with the environment. There are great companies that are springing up with models that are influenced by the slow fashion movement. We have so many options when we choose to spend our money!

We know this is uncomfortable information and that most of us rely heavily on fast fashion to fill our wardrobes. We encourage you not to feel overwhelmed or guilty, but to spend some time thinking about what you would like to do with this information. We will continue to discuss how to begin to move towards making more ethical decisions in a cost-effective way!

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Join us in the conversation! Use #DressWellDoGood in social media and make sure to sign up to receive our posts via e-mail (you can sign up on the sidebar to your right), or add www.thinkliz.com to your RSS blog reader (we recommend Feedly)! If you are enjoying this discussion, please share our posts with your friends!

What is Ethical Fashion?

What is ethical fashion?One of the big questions we are asking is ‘what does ethical fashion even mean?’ What do companies do to try to be ‘ethical’? Let’s take a look at some of the most common practices.

Fair Trade

Fair trade certification is a product certification system claiming that a product meets certain environmental, labor, and business development standards. FairTrade USA certifies products made in the US, while Fair Trade International certifies everything made internationally. One of the critiques of this method is that this certification can exclude the poorest countries and smallest producers from the fair trade market, because the process of getting certified can be cost-prohibitive and difficult to navigate. This label is most often seen on items like coffee or chocolate, but there are an increasing number of clothing brands that have received the Fair Trade certification.

Made in the USA (or Canada)

Because the United States has labor regulations to ensure safe factory conditions and a minimum wage to ensure fair wages, this is often considered an ethical option. However, items labeled as ‘Made in the USA’ aren’t necessarily made of materials that are manufactured in the US (fabric, zippers, buttons, etc), so there is a chance that the supply chain is hiding unethical conditions. Additionally, one could argue that the minimum wage is not high enough to be considered a living wage in America. For example, in Texas the minimum wage is $7.25/hr, which adds up to $15k per year. The 2014 Federal Poverty Level Threshold for two people (say a single mom and her child) is $15,730. Furthermore, ‘Made in the USA’ is certainly not a guarantee of an ethically made product since companies freely break those laws in favor of higher profits (see Forever 21 several years ago). Still, better regulations and higher transparency can make purchasing ‘Made in the USA’ a good option, and perhaps a best option depending on the company. Another advantage of purchasing products made in the US is the ability to keep these trade jobs in country to help boost our economy. Only 2% of clothing purchased in America is made in the US, down from 50% in 1990. Exporting jobs to cheaper factories overseas contributes to the loss of American garment trades, and the decline of domestic wages.

Slow Fashion

Think of slow fashion as a cousin to the slow food movement. Slow fashion items, similar to home cooked foods, are made with care and sustenance: quality, classic, traditional, small batch productions, often with local production chains. It encourages taking time to ensure quality production, giving value to the product, and contemplating the connection with the environment. We are looking forward to talking more about this in future blog posts with some really inspiring examples!

Handmade

This category is sometimes a subset of slow fashion. It encompasses everything from the mom crocheting headbands while her child naps to the artisan weavers in South America keeping cultural traditions alive. Small batch production, artisan techniques, and hand finished details – these are the marks of handmade items. Handmade items can be expensive depending on the quality of materials used and the time spent making the product. However, you are sure to receive something that is unique and created with care.

Organic

This term describes the raw materials for the fabric an item is produced from; it refers to the ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. This can only apply to natural fibers: cotton, linen, and wool. You won’t find any organic polyester! The USDA National Organic Program sets the standards regulating the labeling of organic products in the United States, and worldwide there is Global Organic Textile Standard Certification.

Trade Not Aid, Mission-Driven or Social Enterprise

This is one of our favorite categories because we love what some companies are doing to work with artisan groups to make their crafts and traditions known to the world, and how they are empowering entire groups of people to rise out of poverty. These companies focus on providing a living wage to their artisans, which varies from country to country. A living wage is broadly understood as pay high enough to cover the cost of a family’s basic needs such as food and water, housing and energy, clothing, healthcare, transportation, education and childcare, as well as modest funds for savings and discretionary spending. There are tons of companies that we love in this genre and we will be sharing them with you over time!

Radical Transparency

Companies like Everlane are making everything available for consumers to see – the conditions of their factories across the world, their supply chains and the costs of everything that goes into the product. The transparency of product costs and product markup allows you to purchase a t-shirt knowing that you have not paid more for it than its worth. (In traditional retail, a designer shirt is marked up 8x by the time it reaches the customer.) Additionally, this transparency offers a safer production chain for garment workers.

Reuse/Thrifting

This category  includes your local thrift store, vintage shops, and online thrift stores like ThredUp (*referral link) or Twice (*referral link). Thrifting is a great way to begin engaging in the ethical fashion conversation; you can save money and you aren’t supporting the corporations that are dealing with unethical supply chains. You promote reuse and recycling instead of trash. Thrifting may not get to the root of the Fast Fashion issue, since many thrift stores sell poorly made, stylish clothing in addition to higher-quality items. Still, it is a valid and inexpensive option for ethical consumers.

Upcycling

Upcycling is often a combination of the Reuse/Thrifting and Handmade category. When you upcycle something, you do not break down the materials as you do in recycling.  You take old or discarded materials and modify them into something useful.  For clothing, this could look like turning old t-shirts into yarn and crocheting a handbag, thrifting a dress that is too big and tailoring it to fit you, or taking an old pair of jeans and turning it into a jean skirt.

Recycled Fabrics

The most common recycled fabric is PET –  Plastic bottles that are processed into polyester yarn. Polyester lasts for a long time, is very durable, and has the potential for multiple life-cycles because the garment can be recycled again. The downside is that polyester is a petroleum-based product and will never biodegrade. Other natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, can be recycled as well when they are shredded back into their fiber state and re-spun, in combination with virgin fiber into yarn.

Zero-Waste

Zero-waste, while not a new concept (think Kimonos and Saris), is beginning to make it’s way into mainstream modern clothing. This is a method of clothing production generates little to no textile waste. “Zero-waste fashion design refers to fashion design that ensures that all of the fabric used to make a garment is in the garment. On average, 15 percent of fabric used to make the clothes we wear is wasted during manufacture. All fabric embodies investments of material, water, energy, and labor; recycling fabric waste can only recapture some of these investments. Avoiding waste is always better than recycling it,” (Timo Rissanen, professor at Parsons in New York).

Local Production

This is another area where fashion is similar to food. Through purchasing items that have been designed or produced locally, you reduce CO2 emissions from shipping, support your local economy and local jobs, and possibly even create long term relationships with local vendors.

What to focus on?

So many options, right? We have found it helpful to identify which factors are personally most important to us. Often, companies that embrace one of these ideals naturally encompass multiple facets of ethical fashion practices.

None of these categories should be considered a fail safe, and products that do not fall into one these categories are not necessarily unethical. There are factories in China with excellent working conditions where workers are treated fairly and paid well for their work. There are factories in America where workers are exploited, work in poor conditions, and aren’t paid fairly. It’s worth doing the research on individual companies, figuring out what categories are most important to you, and finding businesses that align with your views and price point. This is something we will dig into more as we continue this discussion.

A recent article in Forbes regarding Mission-Driven Companies states that most American consumers are not aware of which businesses are providing socially responsible products and services and that there needs to be a grass roots education effort. This is one of our goals with this blog – we want to be the grass roots effort among our friends, and hopefully beyond!

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Join us in the conversation! Use #DressWellDoGood in social media and make sure to sign up to receive our posts via e-mail (you can sign up on the sidebar to your right), or add www.thinkliz.com to your RSS blog reader (we recommend Feedly)! If you are enjoying this discussion, please share our posts with your friends!

Why Fashion?

Ethical fashion blogFashion is a funny thing. We all wear clothing; for the most part, it’s inescapable. We all participate in ‘fashion’ by either choosing to participate in particular styles or making a statement through refusal to participate.

On one hand, fashion is a way to express ourselves that is fun and light-hearted.

It is the most visible way that we tell the world who we are. It’s exciting to try on new outfits, to experience new ‘looks’, to see what compliments our unique figures. We feel empowered or more focused when we have dressed in a particular way. I know that I dress with more thought and care for a special event, an important meeting, or a night out with my husband, and the confidence I gain from feeling put together can help me succeed or have a good time.

On the other hand, fashion can be superficial, expensive, and unnecessary, and for some, it can be a burden.

We obsess over what celebrities are wearing, what is trending, what color is hot, and the next new thing. Fashion can be trivial in light of more serious matters in the world. I frequently feel the tension of needing to look put together or ‘cute’ everywhere I go, when sometimes, going to the park with my son doesn’t need to be a fashionable experience. My identity is not in what I wear. Nor should it be. We are all much more than the clothes on our body.

Additionally, clothing production is full of paradox and contradiction.

It’s easy for companies to hide acts of exploitation in their supply chains, feigning ignorance and citing their company’s Code of Conduct like a shield, while supplying to the wealthy public the latest fashions for a steal. Fast fashion. Their catalogues show models living what look like picture-perfect lives, clean and sanitary, but the reality of clothing production is that the factories are far from clean and sanitary.

Once factories took over the creation of our clothing and the majority of what we wore was made outside the home, our clothing purchases became a moral act.

Our fashion choices do have social outcomes and meaning.

As westerners, we are linked with those factory workers in developing countries by our desire for fashion, whether you acknowledge it or not. Your purchase contributes to how they are treated, the well-being of their families, and how they spend the majority of their working life. It is easier to choose not to focus too closely on the people that make our clothing and the state in which they live. But easy isn’t always best, right?

“Most of our lives are spent in clothing. It’s a basic need, but more than that, clothing and style are a huge and integral part of our everyday lives. Clothes are an essential part of the economy and easily the second largest consumer sector, behind food. Dressing sharp, dressing up, and caring about what we wear existed long before the fashion industry, and these values can exist outside it as well.” (Overdressed, *affiliate link)

Because our lives are spent in clothing, and by proxy, in some kind of fashion, it’s worth diving in to look at the true costs of clothing, which can range from the exploitation of people because they are poor and have few options to the empowerment of whole communities. There are so many choices that support empowerment, sustainability and transparency – let’s keep exploring them!