America may be the land of plenty—but not when it comes to clothes actually made in America. If I pull out a random shirt from my closet, there’s a very big chance its tag reads “Made in Bangladesh” or “Made in China” or “Made in Vietnam.”
In fact, the only clothes I own that bear a “Made in America” tag are from American Apparel—which has a history of objectifying women.
As I recently discovered, the working conditions overseas—especially for large corporations—are often awful. Not only do many garment suppliers severely under-pay their employees (think less than 25 cents an hour) but they put them in dangerous, sometimes life-threatening conditions and make them work 80 to 100 hours a week.
Since this is unacceptable to me, I’ve hunted down some relatively affordable manufactured-in-the-USA options:
This line of dresses, tops, and sweaters—basically, laid-back, beachy wear—is solely produced in America. Although a C&C sweater can easily cost around $150 and a tank-top $50, it’s worth it to wait for the sales; that sweater will drop down to sixty bucks and you can snag the tank-top for $25. Definitely still more expensive than H&M, but in this case I’m willing to pay more for high-quality, long-lasting clothes… especially since these were made ethically.
This company is clearly operating under the “Go big or go home” motto. Its vision is nothing less than to “play a hand in the revival of American productivity by using fashion as a vehicle and e-commerce as an engine, thereby bringing renewal to the ‘Made in America’ label around the world.”
I like that on its site American Love Affair acknowledges it won’t always have the lowest price. However, “We do ensure—through sustainable business practices—that our customers get value for what they pay for hard-to-find, domestically made brands.”
I found a lot of cute dresses and shirts in the $20 to $45 range, which seems pretty darn reasonable to me.
I have to admit, I totally covet lululemon’s comfy leggings and cute tops, despite knowing the company participates in fat-shaming and has factories in Peru, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Switzerland. Fortunately for my conscience, Cana Collection offers the same fashionable work-out gear at comparable prices—with better practices. All of its clothes are designed and manufactured in New York.
The company is also partnered with Cotton Incorporated, a US-based organization that’s leading a global charge to make the future of cotton more sustainable. That means investing in earth-friendly research and technologies like biotech varieties, integrated pest management strategies, conservation tillage, and water optimization strategies.
So next time I start to crave a $60 running shirt, I won’t have to support a company I don’t believe in.
Honorable Mentions: Stores with a ‘Made in the USA’ Section
Not all stores have chosen “Made in America” as their primary corporate cause, but some have still managed to draw attention to the issue. These stores feature complete listings on their websites for American-made clothing and accessories.
“Did you check LuLu*s?” is one of the first things my friends and I ask each other when we start searching for stylish outfits for going out. That’s why I was thrilled to discover the site has a Made in the USA section. At any given time, there’s over 450 options, and plenty of them are under $40. You definitely won’t have to make any compromises on style.
For quirky outfits that look like they could come straight from Zooey Deschanel’s closet, I can go to ModCloth’s American-made selection. At last count, there were 1,849 items, ranging in price from $5.99 for donut socks to $399 for an Anna Sui dress. Most clothes and accessories are in the $30 to $100 range.
I’m also a fan of ModCloth’s commitment to supporting independent designers. The founder, Susan Gregg Koger, built ModCloth from the ground up, so she knows what it’s like to be a small business owner. ModCloth buys from talented up-and-coming designers and suppliers across the nation, as opposed to huge corporations.
There’s also a strong emphasis on originality (unlike Forever 21, H&M, Gap, and Uniqlo). Modcloth promises to stay vigilant on intellectual property issues:
“Our designers and suppliers guarantee that they have full legal ownership and copyright to their designs. When items are accused of being direct knockoffs, we investigate the allegation and remove the item from our site if we determine there has been a breach in contract.”
Nordstrom was the only department store I could find that has a specific section for products made on our soil. I love the range of products: from sporty New Balance sneakers to cool slouchy gray beanies, I feel like I’m “normal-shopping,” as opposed to shopping with restrictions. Like with the other options, the Nordstrom clothes aren’t exactly cheap. The most affordable jeans I could find were $50, and they had been marked down twice.
I set out looking to find American-made brands I could afford on a student budget. Do I feel like I’ve succeeded? Not exactly—buying just one thing from any of these companies would take a big chunk out of my “clothes money.” But I guess that means it’s time for me to reevaluate my definition of affordable.
Yes, these clothes cost a lot more than the fast fashion picks I’m used to, but their ethical cost is much lower. Plus, the idea of buying one nice thing instead of many cheap things is fairer to the world I live in. I wouldn’t have expected my quest to a more sustainable and moral lifestyle to lead me toward spending more on clothes, yet it looks like that’s where I’m headed. I’ll keep you updated.
Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a regular contributor to Her Campus, The Prospect, and her college newspaper. Her work has been featured on xoJane and The Huffington Post. The only thing she loves more than writing is dessert. Follow her on Twitter: @ajavuu.