Where are the ethical, affordable and well fitting clothes?
April 10, 2015 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy some new clothes and I'm keen to do this ethically, so organic cotton and fair trade. I'd also like to do this without breaking the bank. When I search online, I can quickly find affordable, ethical t-shirts, but struggle to find any jeans, shirts or v-necks that are ethical and not designer-label priced. Are my Google skills lacking, and if so where do you purchase your clothes from, or is there a reason why clothes that are organic/fair trade also come with designer price tags?

I've at least heard that when it comes to coffee, fair trade coffee beans vs ordinary coffee beans adds a tiny amount on to your average cup. Is the same not true of clothing? How much extra does organic cotton production, a decent, living wage or reduced washing/chemical use add on to the cost of a pair of jeans?

Obviously, if it is the case that these clothes are expensive just because of the increased cost of production, then I ought to get saving and pay the money, but I don't really want to pay just for fancy, designer labels.
posted by jonrob to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
How do you feel about Made in the USA clothing that is not organic?

How about thrifting?
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:19 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seems like if you're willing to spend time instead of money, shopping at thrift or consignment stores satisfies all of your requirements, especially if combined with a good tailor.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:24 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I recently got a pair of jeans from RPM West. They're made in the USA and it's "raw denim," though I'll confess not knowing what that exactly means. They're not the cheapest, but not too pricy, especially if you google around for discount codes.

Their latest offering is a "25-year pant," which is a pair of pants meant to last 25 years,
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:26 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Alternative Apparel seems pretty good and is not terribly priced. Lots of t-shirts, but they do have some jeans and button-down shirts too.

Levi's used to sell organic jeans, I'm not sure if they still do or what their manufacturing conditions are like, but it may be worth a look.

I'm guessing you're looking for men's clothes from your question, but for women's clothes People Tree and Eileen Fisher both advertise being ethical/sustainable.
posted by snaw at 11:27 AM on April 10, 2015

Best answer: See Clean Clothes which answers some of your questions. For example In an estimate of a €100 pair of shoes made in Indonesia, just €0.50 (that's 0.5% of the total retail cost) goes to production workers’ wages. They also answer the question where you should buy clothes but they don't give specific recommendations.
In the Netherlands many bigger clothing stores have a basic organic clothes collection with clothes that cost the same as they did when it was non-organic, so I don't believe that as a rule organic cotton is a lot more expensive.
posted by blub at 11:39 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think it depends what you mean by affordable. I don't think you can find clothing fitting your requirements that is just a tiny bit more expensive than, say, Walmart or Old Navy clothing (or at least I have not seen it).
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:44 AM on April 10, 2015

I would not assume that Alternative Apparel's clothing are fair trade in any meaningful sense. They seem to go out of their way to make it difficult (on their website) to figure out where any particular garment is manufactured (I suspect most are made in low-wage countries), and in their FAQ they acknowledge that none of their current contract manufacturers are Fair Trade certified. Personally I consider Alternative Apparel the labor equivalent to greenwashing.
posted by enn at 11:44 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I like People Tree. They're not super cheap but not ridiculous either. In the UK they're probably a bit less expensive than Banana Republic, for example. Not sure how much they are in the US.
posted by hazyjane at 11:58 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

What is your price limit? "Designer-label priced," and indeed "designer label," mean different things to different people.

I would not assume that Alternative Apparel's clothing are fair trade in any meaningful sense. They seem to go out of their way to make it difficult (on their website) to figure out where any particular garment is manufactured (I suspect most are made in low-wage countries), and in their FAQ they acknowledge that none of their current contract manufacturers are Fair Trade certified.

The Alternative Apparel tees I own were made in Egypt. Their labor aside, I wouldn't recommend the company, as I find their shirts inconsistently sized and more expensive than they're worth. I purchased three t-shirts from them, all the same model, but only one fits properly, while one is too tight and the other is too large.

If you're willing to compromise on your want for organic cotton, Pistol Lake sells well-constructed, made in USA v-neck t-shirts for $25.
posted by lunch at 12:08 PM on April 10, 2015

FairIndigo does not do denim, unfortunately, but they have a variety of non-t-shirt tops and non-denim pants. They do fair trade, organic, made in USA, recycled, vegan and their certifications are here.

Nau does denim and they do fair trade, recycled and organic, but may be what you consider designer label priced.

swapped my links to men's clothes--turns out Fair Indigo does men's jeans, after all: $69.90
posted by crush-onastick at 12:28 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Organic clothes for men seem to be fewer and more expensive than organic clothes for women - I think there's some basic supply-and-demand at work, and the demand is lower. I get quite frustrated searching organic clothing shops and finding almost everything they have is for women, and the men's clothing is often way more than I can afford.

If you are near a Muji store you should take a look at their clothing - in the UK they sell some good organic shirts that are quite cheap (£20 - £30). They seem to have far fewer available in their online store though - the shops are much better.
posted by BinaryApe at 12:28 PM on April 10, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far - all helpful.

A few responses to some questions:

- I'm in the UK, and regards price, I'd be hoping to keep it under £50 for a pair of jeans, £30 or so for a jumper/shirt and £20 or so for a t-shirt.

- Happy to buy clothing manufactured in the west, but would prefer organic cotton still due to the impact pesticides etc. have on the environment.
posted by jonrob at 12:33 PM on April 10, 2015

Prana and Lole as well as other "outdoorsy" type brands do lots of things in recycled, organic, etc. I have no idea what your price range is, but these things do tend to be worth it quality-wise.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 1:23 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've at least heard that when it comes to coffee, fair trade coffee beans vs ordinary coffee beans adds a tiny amount on to your average cup.

Fair Trade programs vary from product to product. In coffee, fair trade certification is fairly meaningless, and kind of bullshit. I've posted about some of the difficulties that Fair Trade certification has in the coffee industry before. Basically, in terms of coffee, yeah, it adds a little bit to your cup…but the producers of that coffee are basically making a 'minimum wage.' And, that price is rarely enough to keep their farms afloat; the price paid is functionally meaningless to their survival. In terms of coffee, if you want to pay ethical amounts of money for your coffee, you're going to pay a not so insignificant amount for your coffee.

I'm not sure this translates the same way with other commodities, but really, Transfair (the NGO that organizes most Fair Trade programs) is a really cool NGO, and a really rad sort of charity, but in terms of securing good pricing for products, Fair Trade falls short of that goal in quite a few industries.

Your best bet, if you're looking for information to their labor practices, is to contact the company directly and ask for information (and sort of proof) that they're doing what they say. I work for a coffee company, and field calls like this all the time.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:37 PM on April 10, 2015

I think I found this site linked here just recently: stillmadeinbritain, maybe you can find something there - I think that should cover the ethical part at least, and there seems to be some range in price & variation of the sites listed, though you'd still have to check about organic. I've been eyeing up several of their listings against payday :-)
posted by symphonicknot at 4:58 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It isn't 100% pesticide free, but you might want to look into the Better Cotton Initiative. Though the problem is that a lot of chemicals get introduced during the manufacturing process. Greenpeace has been working to get manufacturers to agree to better ways of production, and you can find some brands here. And there's this push to slowly eliminate discharge of hazardous chemicals. Which might give you a good idea of what brands are at least making steps in that direction.

DISCLAIMER: I know about these projects because my employer LS&Co have partnered with them as part of their sustainability efforts. For some people, these efforts might not go far enough. But they're also achievable enough that they give you a decent fallback. Plus it was easy to search my inbox for the links.
posted by politikitty at 5:54 PM on April 10, 2015

I am having the same issue finding jeans myself!

The Guardian had a rundown on labels that produce ethically made men's fashion.

I believe that Everlane is based in the U.S., but they make great clothes, relatively affordable, and have a totally transparent production process.

Patagonia tends to be fairly expensive, but I understand they use some of the best ethical (both labor and environmental practices) of any manufacturer.
posted by forkisbetter at 5:25 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was reading this article, specifically on ethical jeans, from The Guardian and they mention a company called Monkee Genes which makes very affordable organic denim.

From Treehugger: "Monkee Genes is the first denim brand to produce Soil Association-approved fully organic jeans."
posted by forkisbetter at 7:28 AM on April 11, 2015


Production of new clothing has a much huger carbon footprint than simply cleaning and wearing clothing someone else is no longer using. It employs no slave labor (assuming there are no slaves in your thrift shop laundry room).

And some amazing, like-new clothes are out there for a buck or two. Literally, sometimes. I just picked up a camel coat for $6 in perfect condition, cashmere/wool.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:05 PM on April 11, 2015

Best answer: American Giant, so far I've only tried their hoodie, but it's a pretty damn good hoodie.
posted by hellojed at 11:38 PM on April 11, 2015

« Older Plans for Vintage Honey   |   What is the most popular videogame ever? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.