Fashion Revolution Week finished up almost exactly a month ago now, and though I had originally planned to share some of the 2017 stats etc. as well as some of the highlights of the global event, that information hasn’t been released yet by Fashion Revolution. So instead, today I would like to share some of what I learned and researched during Fashion Revolution about several vintage repro (reproduction) brands, and how to successfully shop vintage and repro with an ethical mindset.
I know I’ve mentioned it so many times before, but shopping true vintage and second hand is an inherently ethical way to shop. The clothing already exists, so by shopping second hand, you are giving it a second life. Where it gets tricky is in new clothing. Clothing made up into the 1980’s was for the most part produced in an ethical way. So much of the mass produced clothing of earlier eras was made domestically, not outsourced to factories in other countries. You see many of the vintage clothing ads selling garments based on quality, proclaiming things like dresses “made of good quality fabric”, shoes that feature “unusual durability”, and one of Sears children’s brand was even called “Ucanttear”, which was made to withstand the rigours of children at play.
There were abuses within the textile and fashion industry of course, dating back to the 1800’s, which is why we see union labels in many vintage garments. For the most part, though, clothing was not suspect. You didn’t automatically assume back then, like today’s clothing landscape, that clothing was unethically made. Today, every $5 t-shirt and $30 dress that sports the tag “Made in Bangladesh” is questionable. It might not actually be the case, because there are plenty of factories that are safe and paying a living wage (one factory in India even took part in Fashion Revolution Week) but, because of the abuses we have seen over and over again in the industry, with cheaply produced clothing made at the expense of the garment workers, we now tend to presume guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.
One of the problems I find with so many sustainable fashion brands today, is that they are so modern, and hardly any of their clothing fits into my personal style. I love vintage silhouettes and styles, not unstructured, loose, trendy clothes. So, I decided this Fashion Revolution Week to ask the question “Who Made My Clothes” to a few vintage repro companies, to hear what they had to say. I also researched a few other companies to come up with this small list (I am sure there are plenty more) of companies who are making their clothing in an ethical manner.
As a disclaimer, while I would not consider these companies to be “sustainable” since that they don’t share their supply chain, where the cloth and materials come from, or what the environmental impact of their dyeing processes and farming processes are. However I would still consider them to be ethical from a human rights point of view.
The brand Heart of Haute is made in the USA. They have several locations in LA and many of their employees are actually fashion graduates. The garments are “cut to order in San Dimas and assembled by three contract sewing shops in the Los Angeles area”. This way, not only are they supplying local jobs, but they can proudly say ‘Made in the USA”. They do not share their supply chain, but they claim to make high quality garments, designed to last. I would agree with that statement, since last year I purchased a blouse from Heart of Haute. Sadly, I ended up returning it, as I realized that it was too tight and the buttons pulled on the front. The blouse was made of a smooth and sturdy cotton, and all of the seams were finished nicely. The blouse included details like a tie front, and covered buttons, as well as dart shaping so it wouldn’t ride up. I truly do think that it would have been a long lasting purchase. All in all, if I were to come across another item I liked from Heart of Haute, I would not hesitate to buy it.
Another brand which I have tried on in person at a store, is the brand Retrospec’d, which is made in Australia. On their website, they say “All Retrospec’d garments are made in Australia to the very highest standard. The majority of the fabrics themselves are the product of many months spent finding colours and design elements that are “just right”. The result is fresh, vintage-inspired fashion that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the world.” The dresses I saw were made of a lighter cotton sateen, which had a very nice finish and drape, and many of them had border prints, which are always fun. I can’t recall how the insides were finished, but I think that the dresses were lined- I know that the bodice on the 1950’s full skirted dress I tried on was lined in the same fabric as the outside of the dress was (minus the border print). I didn’t end up purchasing the dress, as it didn’t fit well, (sadly!) but had it fit, I believe I would have purchased it. These dresses are definitely more of an investment, but I think that for a well made garment, ethically made in Australia, and with so many yards of fabric in the skirt, and fun touches like border prints, it is well worth it.
A company I have not purchased from (or tried on any of their garments) is Emily and Fin. I know that Nora from Nora Finds owns a few dresses from Emily and Fin, and that she likes them. I was pleasantly surprised to discover on Emily and Fin’s website, a page which states that to ensure their products “are made to the best standard possible and in a safe working environment, we aim to work alongside like-minded businesses; visiting them regularly in order to build strong working relationships and guarantee best practice of manufacture and care” and that all of their pieces are “designed and developed in-house in our London studio” taking the time and care to “ensure a high level of attention is paid to the fit and quality of each garment.” It sounds like they are committed to producing well made, quality items. This seems to be confirmed with a browse through their website, (in which I wanted to add so many items to my cart). They have garments made of fabrics like Tencel (which is a natural and usually eco friendly fabric), viscose (another natural fibre) and 100% cotton (though no mention of organic cotton). Again, the prices are an investment, but this is for a high quality, natural fibre garment, made in ethical conditions. The styles are elegant and timeless, so a dress or blouse from Emily and Fin would definitely withstand the trends.
A company I just found out about from Porcelina’s recent post, is Pretty Retro. This is a UK brand, which offers “affordable, wearable clothing without compromising on style or quality.” And that it is “one of a family of brands run by 20th Century Clothiers Ltd. based in the North of England. All garments are ethically manufactured in Europe and to a high standard.” There are a lot of companies in the UK, which sport the tag “Made in England” etc. I don’t live in the UK, so that doesn’t help me much, but for my UK based readers, this might help you! I can’t testify to the quality of their items, but Porcelina mentioned that she already considers her purchase of their tie top to be a “great staple”, and after a few washes, it seems to be holding up well. They have some fun and pretty styles, and don’t seem to be too badly priced either.
Another company which I own two items from is Hell Bunny. I purchased my black trench coat from Hell Bunny last year and then instantly regretted the purchase- not because of the style, (I love it!) but because I didn’t know how or under what conditions it was made. Now a smart thing to do at that point, would be to email their customer service department and ask them that very question. I, of course, never thought of that until Fashion Revolution rolled around, and then I suddenly realized how silly I had been about it. So, I asked via Instagram, in order to be a part of the “online movement” and also emailed them separately asking them how their clothing is made. They don’t have any kind of information on their website, which is really too bad, as I think that that kind of information should be front and centre, but they were very quick at replying to my message to them. They said, “a lot of our items are made in the same factory. If they say ‘Made in China’, that means they’ve been made in our main factory, which is our closest contact. We see and speak to the staff daily, we’ve been with them for almost 10 years I believe, so the relationship is very strong and as you can imagine we know everything we need to know about the factory to make sure everything runs well. The owner of HB is the one who is the first person to check our factories and he asks a lot of questions and asks for a lot of paperwork before going ahead. He’s very hands on and makes sure there is no bad business going around before we start with them. If there are any items you’re interested in buying you are welcome to mention them to us and we can let you know where it’s made before you purchase.” All in all, I am satisfied with that answer- again it is not a sustainable company, and they don’t seem to be making a claim for “quality” as much as style. However, I have been very happy with the quality of my trench coat, and the only “complaint” I have about it is that it isn’t tan! Would I purchase from Hell Bunny again? I already have 🙂 (That purchase will be coming up in a future post.)
The last vintage repro company I got an answer back from, is Collectif. This is a very popular UK brand, and though I have never purchased anything from them yet, I was interested in one of their garments. I sent them an email about it, and received a reply back right away from their helpful customer service staff. In regards to a specific item I was looking at, they said “it is made in our own facility in China (as with most of our garments.) We work closely with all of our factories to ensure that the garments are ethically made. We have our own facility in China with a team who manage our production. Some of our production and design team have visited our factories there and seen first hand that the working conditions are ethical and the company owner and Chinese Facility Manager visit the factories every week.” They also have a page here in their FAQ’s that outlines their policy. I wouldn’t say that Collectif is a sustainable fashion brand quite yet, as they don’t make any mention of environmental credentials etc, but it is great to see them taking a step in the right direction, by using ethical fashion processes, and also making that information available on their website for the customer to see, without even having to ask. I decided against purchasing the garment I had been looking at, for now, but if I came across something I liked, I might decide to purchase from them. I know plenty of other bloggers have been very happy with their Collectif purchases.
Those are the companies I heard back from. Two companies whom I never received a reply from are Trashy Diva and Retrolicious. Trashy Diva’s garments are designed in the US, but they make no mention of where they are made- and since I never got a reply back from them, I unfortunately can’t tell you! Do any of you know? Retrolicious is another brand from the US. I did purchase from them last year, this dress. I bought it because it was made in the US, but I don’t know about the rest of their line. I was satisfied with the quality of the dress, although in recent months, it appears that the hem has stretched a bit and is now a bit lopsided. I think this is because it is a circle skirt, and it was perhaps not hung long enough to stretch out the bias.
I also asked Joe Fresh, a Canadian brand, where their clothes were made, but did not receive any reply back from them either. I wasn’t really expecting to, but it is too bad, as they have so many cute styles- but have a terrible track record of human rights abuses. I used to purchase a lot of clothes from them years ago, before I knew about “cheap, fast fashion”, but I don’t buy from them anymore.
So what was the one thing I learned during Fashion Revolution Week? You can ask “Who made my clothes” all year round, and if you don’t see the information on a company’s website, you can ask them directly. It’s so obvious, but somehow I had just never really thought about it before. We can do our homework, and research brands, but if we don’t find a satisfactory answer we can also ask companies directly. And sometimes, if you ask the question, you might be pleasantly surprised by the answer.
Fashion Revolution Week may be over for this year, but Fashion Revolution is not! I know that this is not an exhaustive list of ethical vintage repro companies, so if you know of other companies that are producing ethically made clothing, let us all know in the comments! I’d love to find new repro brands to buy from.
And, if you want to ask a brand yourself, about their clothing production methods, here is an outline of the letter that I emailed to the brands:
“I have been wearing vintage styles for a few years now, and I love that there are vintage reproduction companies making beautiful vintage inspired garments today.
“I have in the past purchased _____ from you,” or “I have never purchased from you before, even though I Iove so many of your styles, and I have seen a fair number of vintage bloggers feature outfits by you.” However the one thing I couldn’t find any information about, is where the clothing is made.
The most important concern I have when deciding to purchase new clothing, is in making sure that is produced in an ethical and sustainable way. I want to make sure that when I wear something I feel great about it, not just because it is a lovely style, but because I know that the people who made it are being treated in a fair manner. Where are your garments being made? Are they being made in an ethical manner? I would love to know that those who make the clothes are being treated fairly, have the freedom to speak out, work in safe conditions and are being paid a living wage in order to live with dignity, opportunity and hope.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
Sincerely, ____ (your name)”
What are your top ethically made vintage repro brands? Have you ever purchased from any of these vintage repro brands? Have you ever asked a brand where their clothes are made?