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Practical Ways to Avoid Sweatshop Clothing 
by Mieko Lindeman June 10, 2005

Perhaps we can't be superheros and save the world from exploitative, inhumane labor practices, but it is possible in small, realistic ways, to take a stand against such injustices. Whether you are in a small suburban community or cutting edge urban neighborhood, it's possible to stop supporting sweatshops in many ways.

It is unbelievable at times that the colorful and wish-listed clothing we gaze at in shopping malls and mega stores across America is the work of an underpaid, abused, and often under-aged laborer. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t business as usual in an often unfair universe; sweatshops are ILLEGAL. It is the deliberate violation of the most basic human rights for the sake of lowering labor costs and maximizing profits. The "why" behind denouncing sweatshop labor isn’t the issue, but the "how." In a world filled only with shopping malls and megastores, how can the average consumer express their condemnation of such practices?


You don’t have to get out a bullhorn and a poster to exercise this effective tool. You don’t have to be an encyclopedia on the injustice of sweatshop practices or a political zealot either. By refusing to buy into the sweatshop world you are simply practicing human decency. Think of it more as taking back personal choice in your life. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Every choice is a political choice.” Any look at the tag of an article of clothing will let you know if it is sweatshop made. The mention of any underdeveloped/developing country is an easy marker to spot for sweatshop labor. However, there are sweatshops everywhere in the world, including wealthier nations such as Japan and the U.S. Look for "union-made" mentions on labels. Unions ensure decent standards of work for employees. However you are unlikely to find the mention of unions on most major brands, so don’t feel too frustrated when they aren’t there. Unions are often discouraged, put down (sometimes violently), and banned for garment workers by corporations as it interferes with the current labor practices. Overall, any garment found in the local shopping mall, department store, megastore, etc., is likely to be sweatshop made, so these are generally places to avoid when shopping with a conscience. Boycotting does not hurt workers. There are movements to unionize and demand better conditions in all sweatshops, by supporting unions and avoiding sweatshop-using companies, you support workers, not hurt them.

Buy Used Clothing

While a thrift store or Salvation Army find may be from a sweatshop company, the purchasing of it does not support that company any longer. Anti-sweatshop purists may argue otherwise, but used clothing is accessible to most people in good quantities. After the first purchase, this product is essentially economically "dead" to the label. The only gain a company has to gain from an already purchased item is free advertising (hence the abundance of large brand name labels as a form of decoration on clothing). Avoid purchasing items that advertise the label and always cut out the tag with the brand’s name on it as well. It is also more economically efficient to purchase such clothing at the lowered price, not just because it’s easier on your wallet either. Sweatshop-made clothing is very cheaply produced due to extremely inexpensive labor fees, the profit margin the corporations make is very large. The heavily discounted price you purchase the used clothing at is far closer to the actual worth of the garment than the inflated price originally allotted to it by the corporation.

Purchase Apparel From Anti-Sweatshop Labor Companies

These companies are fairly easy to identify since one of their typical distinctions is that they are NOT sweatshop made. Finding this minority in the garment industry can be very frustrating. Outside of most large cities, it is unlikely you will find such a progressive label. Companies such as American Apparel and Busted Tees are two youthful, cutting-edge clothing brands that are sweatshop free, very fashionable, and best of all, moderately priced. Though they are limited in full wardrobe (neither makes jeans for example), both are cult favorites for high quality tees. American Apparel is growing by leaps and bounds and has locations in L.A, NYC, and Montreal. These brands are easily accessed via the internet and provide extensive online shopping. Union Jean and Apparel is also a great brand that provides a fuller selection and is also available for ordering via the internet. Needless to say, the choices are quite limited, and internet shopping is not everyone’s cup of tea and/or privilege.

Support Local Businesses and Street Fairs

Small shops around your hometown will usually feature handmade goods done by a few artisans or guild. Clothing stores may often still be filled with larger labels that do use sweatshops, so continue to check clothing tags. If your hometown isn’t big on the local handcrafts, keep an eye out for street festivals and craft fairs. These feature dozens if not hundreds of artists that may specialize in weaving, sewing, cloth dying, and other textile skills. Originality of design and a higher standard of quality is often the norm in these places and prices are still reasonable. Exploring them is a great weekend activity and a great break from a stuffy mall.

Cum Grano Salus (With a Grain of Salt)

Few people have the time, energy, and convenience to purchase a fully sweatshop free wardrobe. Having an "All or Nothing" type attitude isn’t the focus, being more aware and helping out in the small ways you can is! Scale back that mall shopping a bit, look at used clothing stores a bit more, and make an occasional purchase (if possible) at a non-sweatshop label you like. Going about an ordinary task, such as buying a new t-shirt, shouldn’t have to send you on a guilt trip that you are helplessly supporting unjust sweatshop labor. Also, make sure to tell your friends and family about your new clothing inclination to prevent getting a gift card or garment from a sweatshop company. By starting small and putting your money where your heart is, you can help take a stand against sweatshop labor and shop with your conscience fully intact.


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