Practical Ways to Avoid Sweatshop Clothing

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 colourful 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 labourer. 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 labour costs and maximising profits. The “why” behind denouncing sweatshop labour 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 useful 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 merely practising 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 labour. 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 labour 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 unionise and demand better conditions in all sweatshops, by supporting unions and avoiding sweatshop-using companies, you support workers, not destroy 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 reasonable 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 buying things 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. They produce sweatshop-made clothing very cheaply due to extremely inexpensive labour fees, the profit margin the corporations make is enormous. The heavily discounted price you purchase the used clothing at is far closer to the actual worth of the garment than the inflated price initially allotted to it by the corporation.

Purchase Apparel From Anti-Sweatshop Labor Companies

These companies are relatively 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 see such a progressive label. Companies such as American Apparel and Busted Tees are two young, 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 favourites 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 offers a fuller selection and is also available for ordering via the internet. The choices are quite limited, and internet shopping is not everyone’s cup of tea and 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 have larger labels that do use sweatshops, so continue to check clothing tags. If your hometown isn’t big on the local handicrafts, keep an eye out for street festivals and craft fairs. These feature dozens if not hundreds of artists that may specialise in weaving, sewing, cloth dying, and other textile skills. The 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 significant 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 labour. 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 labour and shop with your conscience fully intact.

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