Have you ever gotten a hole in a sweater and experimentally pulled on one of the threads sticking out? What was a tiny hole quickly becomes a massive hole. This is how I feel about the apparel industry. The problem – apparel needs to be more sustainable = little whole in the sweater. Trying to figure out how to fix it = unraveling the whole damn thing. Keep pulling at that sucker and pretty soon you are better off knitting a whole new sweater rather than trying to fix the whole you just made. However, it’s not enough to make your new sweater out of green yarn. If you want to make truly ethical fashion, you need to look further back than fabric. You need to look at who is making your clothing and ask, is their life sustainable?
When only 2% of the clothing that is bought in America is actually made in America it’s no wonder that most of us have absolutely no idea where on Earth our clothing is coming from. Sure, we can find a label that says it’s country of origin but chances are that the country is half way across the world, and chances are you won’t be going there, and even if you did are you going to scope out the conditions in the garment factories, and if you tried, would they even let you in? The truth is, for almost all Americans, the question of who/what/where behind our clothing is a complete mystery. Does leaving it up to our imaginations make the clothing sexier? Or is exposing the horrific conditions behind much of the worlds apparel manufacturing sort of like playing a recording of a pig squealing while somebody is trying to enjoy a BLT? If the response to the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 800 people, is an indicator I’m willing to guess it’s the latter.
For our lines, domestic manufacturing has always been a given. After looking over our domestic CMT (cut, make, trim) options we decided to work with a group, located only an hour away from us, called Opportunity Threads. We made this decision not only because we knew they can make really high quality clothing, but also because of the vision of their company. They are a co-op – a worker owned cut and sew facility. I didn’t even know that this type of operation could exist in the apparel industry! Beyond having a safe and happy working environment where they make fair wages for their outstanding work, employees at opportunity threads are able to become worker-owners who make decisions together about their owen working environment. You can visit their website for more information and to get a sense of how bright the future of American manufacturing in the textile industry can be with Opportunity Threads as a model. It’s a beautiful thing.
With a global audience witnessing tragedy after tragedy at sewing factories we are starting to really see a blood price for fast-fashion. It doesn’t make sense that somebody is risking their lives day after day to make a cheap tank top, especially when alternatives exist! These alternatives only exist if brands are willing to make the change to manufacturing ethical fashion in a safe environment, and consumers can encourage that change by increasing their demand for ethical fashion. As a brand we can choose to work with people like Opportunity Threads, source our materials responsibly, cut down our carbon footprint, but the reality is that consumers need to get involved too. We need to pull back this veil thats been placed over the workers behind our clothing voluntarily, rather than having it ripped away after a fire or a factory collapse. Maybe it’s not as sexy to reveal the process behind the product, but if we want to reinvent the way clothing is made as a more ethical process, I think it’s a really good place to start.
Maria is another seamstress at Opportunity Threads, working on one of our wool t-shirts.