I’ll say it again: Cheap clothes support cheap lives. Buying the disposable funds a world that treats people’s lives as also disposable, trading child labor, economic slavery, and sacrifice of human lives for more money in your pocket and one more shirt in your closet.

I am constantly disappointed by people’s inability to make this simple connection.

Yes, I have been told that I’m frivolous for buying expensive shoes. But then, these same critics happily load up on cheap shoes from places like Target and Forever 21, all with the attitude that they are somehow better than me because they’re getting ten pair of shoes for the price of one of mine.

When I buy my shoes (clothes, whatever) I know how and where they were made. And, yes, that might mean that because I’m spending more, I have less clothing in my closet than the average Old Navy shopper. But how much clothing do we really need? Are we buying fast fashion for the sheer joy of adorning ourselves, or to fill some other void?

I believe that if we were honest with ourselves about the working conditions for those who make our cheap clothing, we would all work harder to spend our money on labels that support craftspeople who live decent lives, lives with freedom and the ability to provide for themselves and their families.

Of course, expensive does not equal well made. If you give a damn you have to do your research.

If you look at the labels at the Marc Jacobs store, you’ll see that much of it is made in China, for example. Though they have a vendor code of conduct that “specifically prohibits the use of involuntary or forced labor, human trafficking, child labor, and harassment and abuse,” when contractors and middlemen are involved, there’s only so much they can do to enforce that code. Old Navy might attest to that.

Here’s another example: recently I was looking at a collection of dresses by Dita Von Teese for Decades in Los Angeles.

The dresses started at $500. I was intrigued! I like Dita’s style and I assumed, from the price, that she was having them made by people who earn livable wages. But then I found that the clothes were made in China, under conditions that are unclear, at best. I’m not comfortable with that, no way in hell.

I am ok with spending $500 on a dress if it’s made by people who live the kind of life I could live. But I have no interest in supporting people who have stuff made cheap, then jack up the prices to line their pockets.

Just remember when you buy, you choose the world you want to live in.

the author

Babe Scanlon is a writer living and working in San Francisco. She's worked as an archaeologist, computer game designer, agent at Agent Provocateur and hypnotherapist. She is controlling your mind at this very moment.

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  • Scott

    I like how this article shows concern for the working conditions of people overseas, but doesn’t acknowledge that many people here simply don’t have the money to spend $500 on a dress.

    • Babe Scanlon

      I was talking in particular about the Dita Von Teese range. I expected the high price to be a reflection of a choice to have it made in a country that pays livable wages. There are plenty of US made dresses for less. But when you factor in fabric and labor a custom made dress can come to that cost. Obviously many people can’t afford that but a lot can and I’m advocating for saving up and buying 1 ethically made dress as opposed to 3 shittily made dresses.

      Those with the ability to choose should choose well.

  • A couple years ago I decided to only buy American-made shoes and haven’t looked back.

    What’s funny to me is that most people see no value in buying American-made products for things like clothes and shoes, so they tend to be about the same price as anything else.

    • LastCallSF

      There is documentary coming out called “American-Made Movie” that features an interview the CEO of New Balance, of American made footwear fame. http://theamericanmademovie.com/about/

  • RBR

    I agree with you Babe, and judging by the emphasis that companies such as Brooks Brothers are placing on their USA-made lines of clothing, other people are signing on to the idea too.
    In January of 2011 I decided that I had enough of high priced items with poor QC, made in sketchy places. I replaced all of my shoes with brands such as Allen Edmonds, Grenson, Joseph Cheaney & Sons. I sourced belts made in the USA through Allen Edmonds, and I even found a belt and wallet maker in Florida, Pete Kinnamon. He and I spend a solid hour talking by phone about his products.
    There are socks, shirts, pants, coats, jackets, belts, etc. that are competitively priced and of high quality.
    There are a number of jeans manufacturers in LA, North Carolina, and even San Francisco.

  • Liz Rood

    I have been reading labels to find out where my clothes are made for years. I also often buy used clothing because much of it predates manufacturing shifts to East Asian factories. That said, I have been to a couple of factories in China (knives not clothes) and though it was not somewhere I would want to work, It was neither prison nor slave labor.

    Right on, Babe, for bringing this up. Know where your clothes are made, and even better, find out under what conditions they are made.

    But $500 for an off-the-rack dress from Dita? Heck for that price you could have something made to order that fits you perfectly.

  • LastCallSF

    There was a store, for a while, next to my house on Mission st. that priced all their shoes at 11 bux. That was their big selling point, “All shoes 11 bux!” I went in once to check it out and could almost taste the slavery. It was gross, and terribly sad. I never went back.