What companies make good quality stuff without exploiting people?
January 27, 2017 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I love my Darn Tough socks, what else is out there that is made by happy workers and is of excellent quality? (not just clothes)

So recently I have decided that I would rather save up and buy things that are a little pricier but give me joy. I would like your recommendations of brands that

1)Make their products without exploiting people (be it in our outside the US, as long as the workers are happy).
2)Make products of excellent quality (lifetime warranty or at least famously well made). I *hate* cheap, crappy materials that will end up in a landfill in less than a year (like Express clothes, for example, they are practically disposable)
3)Preferred but not required (because sometimes you can't have it all)
--sustainably made or at least some environmental awareness
--hand made (this is really not necessary, just cool)

So far, my list is really short:
Patagonia (great quality, environmentally conscious, fair trade options)
LlBean (quality, happy workers, really good warranty)
Darn Tough socks (similar to llBean)
Fluevog shoes (excellent quality, handmade, concerned with sustainability and while not certified fair trade, they seem to really care about their workers abroad)
Ben & Jerry because they are awesome in every way
Divine chocolate (it's delicious, fair trade)
posted by Tarumba to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 169 users marked this as a favorite
I love Fiestaware china because it's attractive, reasonably priced, and durable, and it's union-made in America. I've dropped mugs and had them bounce, but maybe I got lucky. Modern Fiestaware is lead-free, but I don't know of any other sustainability measures.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:43 AM on January 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

Tom Bihn bags and luggage.
posted by praemunire at 9:44 AM on January 27, 2017 [10 favorites]

Lush Cosmetics - good employment policies, ace products, and they support myriad causes with a particular focus (if I remember correctly) on funding services which help ex-offenders re-entering society.
posted by greenish at 9:51 AM on January 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

European-made stand mixers, probably. At least, I know the Ankarsrum is heavy-duty and repairable, I've heard good things about some Bosch mixers likewise, and I assume the workers have good protections and representation as EU citizens.
posted by clew at 9:53 AM on January 27, 2017

I bought a bag from this company dedicated to selling products made by women in developing countries and it's beautiful. I have this one. I can't speak to the quality of their other products but the leather is great.
posted by something something at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Everlane makes nice quality clothes and is very transparent about the factory conditions for their workers.
posted by katie at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

Thanks for asking this question, I'm looking for this too!

I was going to suggest Fiestaware too, I have some coffee/tea mugs that are really durable.

I've found some clothes at madefair. It's an aggregator/curator of fair trade brands, not a single manufacturer but you can read a little about the specific brand for each item.
posted by day late at 10:09 AM on January 27, 2017

Eileen Fisher (assembly-line-made but ticks all other boxes)


Rough & Tumble bags and Soft Star shoes (made one at a time* in the U.S.)

*I hesitate at "handmade" because all clothing is sewn by human workers and the big difference is the scale of production
posted by mama casserole at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Red Wing Boots: quality boots and shoes made in Minnesota since 1905. And as a bonus, they're in style now.
I also take any chance I can to recommend Fair Indigo. Quality, fair trade clothing, jewelry and some housewares. I've not been disappointed with anything I've purchased there.
posted by areaperson at 10:45 AM on January 27, 2017

Modern Fiestaware is lead-free, but I don't know of any other sustainability measures.

I'm lucky enough to live within a reasonable distance of their factory, and have done the factory tour more than once, and would do it again. The employees all seemed pretty pleasant to talk to, even those out on the floor. More importantly, I'm within a reasonable distance of their seconds room, which means I've got a cabinet full of "flawed" dishware that was about $60. Our cats eat off of Fiestaware. The tour guide mentioned to us that the only things they don't sell that way are the IP protected commercial (i.e. Applebee's) plates they're forced to destroy, and they take care of that on-site.
posted by librarianamy at 10:46 AM on January 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

Grenada Chocolate Company
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:52 AM on January 27, 2017

I see at least a few on your list are B(enifit) Corps. Consider checking the directories of any responsibility certifications your favorites have earned.
posted by glibhamdreck at 10:55 AM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh also if you're into nice denim, Railcar jeans are hand made in CA.
Another way to find "local"clothing and housewares is to research nicer boutiques in your area and check out the brands they carry. Many boutiques in my city purposely carry Local or American made products. That way you're buying good products and supporting a small shop that most likely needs business. You'll find great stuff that's already curated for you this way - I found both Redwing and Railcar by shopping at a small store, Context, in Madison, WI. Context has an online store too.
posted by areaperson at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2017

A Continuous Lean's American List may provide a good starting point in addition to the items in this thread. I love my American Giant hoodie; it's sturdy as heck.
posted by torridly at 11:13 AM on January 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

At a smaller scale, I have a jacket from Alamere. They don't make much (a few jacket styles and the like), but they make them here in the Bay Area, and you pay a few extra bucks to make it so. I don't make many of my own clothes, but I repair and patch and stitch up the clothes I do have for years and years and years, including tee-shirts and socks and other things America tends to think of as disposable (thanks, mom). I rarely buy new clothes. I needed a new jacket last year and bought Alamere's lightweight, light-packing, stunningly comfy City Puff. It's been through the wash a few times since and has held up wonderfully. I'll most certainly be a repeat customer.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:21 PM on January 27, 2017

Seconding American Giant, although they have have started adding some synthetic fabrics, so pay attention to what you order.
posted by mikek at 1:45 PM on January 27, 2017

Betabrand has really high quality and very comfy clothing, and is hand made in San Francisco.
posted by ananci at 1:58 PM on January 27, 2017

In light of your social concern, you may want to know that LL Bean has recently been target of a Grab Your Wallet Boycott since one of the family members is a serious Trump supporter.

Though they're not manufacturers, Costco is known for being exceptionally good to their employees and for offering high quality products.
posted by Sublimity at 5:57 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Theo Chocolates in Seattle. Nom.

Incra Woodworking Tools in Dallas. Insanely solidly built, albeit a niche good.

For stand mixers (mentioned above), those are European brands, but not necessarily European made. Kitchen-Aid has made the standard best one for 50+ years, with very few changes, and is a union shop; that generally means good things.
posted by talldean at 6:10 PM on January 27, 2017

I just found this adorable little store in Minnesota called Willful. I was looking for handmade wooden spoons and this shop has a ton of wooden items made with salvaged or sustainable wood in the US.

I really appreciate everyone's recommendations, this is so exciting!
posted by Tarumba at 6:50 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Betabrand has really high quality and very comfy clothing, and is hand made in San Francisco.

Is it? I was super excited about the item I bought from Betabrand last year, but then the tag said Made In China.

I think it was designed locally but made somewhere else. Disappointed. :(
posted by ainsley at 7:53 PM on January 27, 2017

Bob's Red Mill is worker owned, as is Deschutes beer (and New Belgium, too).

The Betabrand stuff I've purchased was very shoddily made, fwiw.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:58 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ureshii is all handmade by two women in Canada.

Vaya Bags is a woman owned shop who uses a lot of recycled materials, and the bags are almost bombproof.
posted by bibliogrrl at 10:57 PM on January 27, 2017

Well, since you mention chocolate...
- Diego's Chocolate is produced near where the cacao is grown in Guatemala, which means they're getting the extra profit that comes with a value-added product. Also, they pay locals to individually color the wrappers because they would rather give someone a job than get a color printer.
- Mad├ęcasse currently does some of their production in Madagascar and is working to shift more of it back there.
- Ok, so you already mentioned Divine, but I just want to point out that it's partially owned by the farmers' co-op that provides the cacao, so the farmers can influence decision-making and receive a share of the company's profits.

And here are some bicycles:
- Detroit Bikes are manufactured in Detroit (of course) and the frames look pretty bulletproof, though if you wanted to turn one into a real lifelong bike there are several component upgrades I would recommend. A 2013 article said they hire union welders at a "fair and livable wage," but I don't see that on their website, so it may have changed.
- A.D. Carson of Recycled Recumbents turns old upright bikes into new recumbents. His reputation in the online recumbent community is excellent, so I assume people don't have issues with his bikes.
- Bike Friday's folding bike factory is in Oregon. The bikes are very well designed/built and I hear their customer service is outstanding.
- There are tons of independent/custom framebuilders. Many of them make high-price, high-quality frames that will last a LONG time.
- Worksman bikes and trikes are made in the US and noted for their durability. Many of their models are intended for industrial use.
- I could go on about bicycles forever, but I'll stop now!
posted by sibilatorix at 11:33 PM on January 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

In light of your social concern, you may want to know that LL Bean has recently been target of a Grab Your Wallet Boycott since one of the family members is a serious Trump supporter.

Just a quick note about this: many Mainers, including Shay Stewart-Bouley, a Black woman who runs an anti-racism non-profit in Boston, have gone out of their way to distinguish in this case between Linda Bean the individual and LL Bean the company. Linda is one of a large number of family members on the board, and is regarded among locals as the black sheep of the family. LL Bean the company has been paying workers a fair wage, keeping much of their manufacturing in the US, and offering benefits to domestic partners for a long, long time. If you want to punish Linda Bean, boycott her personal lobster company instead.
posted by zebra at 6:07 AM on January 28, 2017 [14 favorites]

How about Bombas? https://bombas.com/
posted by james33 at 7:06 AM on January 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ben & Jerry's is owned by Unilever, unfortunately.

When I'm looking for a thing and I want to see if there's a better/more sustainable/more local version of it I look and see if I can find a Canadian company, they've managed to keep a lot of small manufacturers up there in the Great White North. Especially footwear and clothing. Take off!
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 8:05 AM on January 28, 2017

Mariclaro bags are handmade in a small Canadian workshop out of reclaimed goods. They look awesome and last forever.
posted by stray at 9:34 AM on January 28, 2017

I've been thinking about the "handmade" ( almost always with machines) vs mass-produced distinction, and have decided that it's not relevant to my ethical standards (and sometimes points the other way).

As mama casserole pointed out, basically all our clothes and shoes are handmade. Cheaper goods might be cheaper because

(a) they're made to be cheap, of worse goods or with steps left out that would strengthen the product

(b) they're made with more efficient processes, e.g. machine-sewn vs handsewn, or with industrial rather than home machines, or with some other Ricardian advantage

(c) the workers anywhere along the line are paid less

(d) they've skipped steps that preserve the environment or protect the workers

(e) they're less fashionable

Only (c) and (d) are bad by my ethical standards. (a) might or might not be a bad deal for me or the world, depending on the ratio of production costs to actual use. (Overengineering is also bad engineering.)

(b) is a GOOD thing. (b) is how we free ourselves from The Song of the Shirt. We don't know what degree of (b) is commensurate with not wrecking our ecosystem, but it's (b) that lets me be literate instead of a peasant like most of my ancestors. (b) is the opposite of an exclusive good, though, so buying boutique productions instead makes it obvious that I am a person of sensibility disposable income.
posted by clew at 11:55 AM on January 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Red Wing Boots: quality boots and shoes made in Minnesota since 1905

Only some models of Red Wings are made in the US. The rest are made in China. Basically the cheaper shoes are made in China.
posted by OmieWise at 12:36 PM on February 2, 2017

I came back to say that I recently bought a spoon from Carved Wooden Spoons. It's such a small business that I'm not even sure if the owner has any employees, but my walnut cooking spoon is beautifully hand carved, and it arrived lovingly packed. Since the goods are fairly priced (by fair I mean not immorally cheap), purchasing directly from a wood carver counts as fair trade, in my book.

As james33 recommended, I also purchased bombas socks, and they are of incredibly good quality! I am not 100% sure where they are made yet (I have sent them an email), but the huge thing with this company is that for every pair you purchase, they donate another pay to homeless shelters. There is a video of how they designed wear and tear resistant, comfy socks for their donations.
posted by Tarumba at 6:42 AM on March 6, 2017

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