Get ready to learn some shit. Today, we are talking about the importance of buying ethically and how ethical fashion is actually a lot more accessible than we think.
Joining us on the Bluestockings Blog is one of my favorite people in the lingerie industry. One of the great pleasures of starting your own lingerie store is getting to talk to the people you’ve long admired from afar. Quinne Myers, the designer behind indie brand She and Reverie, truly practices what she preaches: She and Reverie is made in New York City - check out their ethical statement. Quinne also writes about the importance of ethical practices in the fashion industry and generally takes no bullshit in articles like “The Real Cost of Cheap Lingerie: Why Who Made Your Intimates Matters” and her amazing “Why is Lingerie So Expensive?” series.
Today, Quinne is joining us to debunk some common myths about ethical fashion and to talk about why “ethical” is more than a buzzword.
What are the benefits of manufacturing ethically: for designers, for retailers, for consumers?
Not exploiting people for clothing is the benefit to manufacturing ethically. For everyone. 100%. Period. That's it. If you don't care about the people who made your clothes, I sincerely question your humanity.
What are the most common misconceptions you hear about ethical manufacturing?
I think a lot of the older misconceptions -- that ethically-made clothing is ugly or for old hippies, that it's only made by artisans in rural tribes, things like that -- have been dispelled for the most part. The idea that it's horrifically expensive is another misconception, but that's only a misconception depending on what you think "expensive" is. If you think panties for more than $3 are expensive, then it's not a misconception. But I'll talk more about that later. I think there are a lot more misconceptions about not-specifically-ethical manufacturing, like how so many people don't know clothing is still manufactured on human-operated sewing machines, and the "at least those hard-working children have jobs" argument.
She and Reverie, manufactured in New York City
Is it hard to manufacture ethically in the United States? What kind of work do you have to do as a NYC-based designer to guarantee ethical conditions?
It's hard to manufacture here because there isn't a lot of talent or machinery left, and because it's expensive. It's easy because it's so accessible, communication is simple & quick, and ensuring that your clothes are being made ethically is simple. We're currently working with a very, very small factory consisting of fewer than 10 people (including the owner, who also sews). In situations like this, when you can drop in unannounced and have relationships with the people who sew for you, guaranteeing ethical conditions is pretty simple. Plus, the US has relatively strict labor laws, which adds another level of security.
Does "ethical" always mean "expensive"?
Depends on your definition of "expensive"! It's very possible to manufacture overseas and still do it ethically, but it's still going to cost more than factories where sewers work 14 hour days for pennies on the hour. I think Hanky Panky is a great example of this. They are one of the biggest USA-made underwear companies, but their panties are still $25. Even American Apparel's panties average about $16 a piece, and they're a vertically-integrated company. It's certainly more expensive than the 5 for $25 pairs you can pick up at the mall, and they likely always will be.
"Ethical" doesn't just mean the manufacturing -- it also deals with how the materials are produced and how we get them. What kinds of challenges do independent brands and designers face when sourcing materials?
Soooo many challenges... she and reverie's custom-printed fabrics are all done overseas, either through a printer in China I know personally or through someone I trust here in the garment district with connections in China & India, so I know those are made ethically, at least as far as labor goes. Otherwise, when buying fabric, indie designers can't meet the 10,000 yard minimum required by a fabric mill because we might only need 100 yards. And we can't afford to go overseas and check out the mills where our fabrics come from. In fact, we usually don't even know where the mills are. We buy through wholesalers who connect to mills through Asia-based fabric distributors, or through fabric jobbers who buy excess stock from larger designers, or even retail outlets who go through both of those channels. There are SO MANY middlemen. And hardware like bra hooks, buttons, underwires, garter clips... this stuff doesn't manifest itself out of thin air. Someone makes it. And it's very, very, very hard to know where it comes from.
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To learn more about how Bluestockings works to minimize our environmental footprint and guarantee ethical manufacturing from the brands and designers we stock, check out our Sustainability Policy.