I run a small, American-made clothing company.
We use surplus fabric (usually excess from mills in the USA) and cut and sew all garments in Colorado. As you can imagine, none of this is cheap.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my company’s costs versus conventional clothing, typically made in the developing world by workers who make less than $80 per month. I used a basic t-shirt as the comparison, and asked:
What is the real difference in cost of goods between a little company like mine, or a mammoth company making tens of thousands of tees?
When broken down, the difference is astounding. It costs 14 times more in labor alone to produce a t-shirt in the USA in small quantities.
So what’s the benefit? American-made almost always costs more than fast fashion and big box outlets, but why is it important that we shop local and independent?
(I’ll add that I’m a fashion outsider, and got into the industry via a Kick-starter campaign, crazily enough. Until I began my own company, I had no clue how our shopping habits affected communities, ecosystems and economies. Now I work in the independent fashion world every single day, and see the benefits first-hand.)
Here’s why it’s important to support independent fashion (locally, when you can):
1. Indie designers give the people a choice.
Let’s face it—without small businesses, we would be slaves to the big brands. Indie designers struggle (a lot) without economies of scale, but they do it. (I can assure you that most don’t do it for the money.) Keeping indie labels alive means more options for future shoppers, and a better chance of success for other small businesses.
2. Independent design is where innovation happens.
Fast fashion is churning out designs at rapid-fire pace. Some of their designs are copied straight from independent designers (for example, Forever21 is in a copyright infringement suit with Feral Childe, an eco-conscious company manufacturing in NYC, for alleged theft of a print design). The rest of the tens of thousands of new styles coming out of fast fashion houses are anything but innovative, progressive or eco. Indie designers help push fashion forward, ask questions that matter and bring new ideas to the fashion community.
3. Locally-made is a learning opportunity.
I have several friends who know nothing about fashion, but have visited Colorado’s Topo Designs (backpacks and bags made locally) and are now curious about the manufacturing process. The personal interactions between designers, manufacturers and customers allows for curiosity, exploration and learning something new.
4. Small business success is important to America (or wherever you’re from).
Most of us know that shopping locally is good for the economy, because more of your dollars stay in the community. Supporting local manufacturing sustains (and can even create!) jobs.
When you buy a shirt made in China, you don’t know the full story. You can’t ask the maker, and many times, you can’t even ask a big company about the history of your clothes. But locally made fashion is accessible, and can give customers the transparency that the fashion industry desperately needs.
7. Independent design keeps it weird and unique.
Whether we like it or not, fashion is influenced by a few magazines and companies. Trends are dictated via media, and a lot of local flavor is lost in the mass assimilation of style. Independent designers can create the beautiful and the weird, and bring forth a sense of community and uniqueness.
8. American manufacturing can reduce environmental impacts.
Everything you buy, from your toothpaste to your socks, has traveled around the globe at least once. Raw materials come from every corner of the earth, shipped from country to country for assembly. Isolating at least one part of that process (manufacturing) helps the carbon footprint of an item.
9. Wal-Mart doesn’t care what you think.
But your local tailor shop, indie boutique, or garment manufacturing center does. The great thing about supporting independent small businesses is that you have a voice, and your opinion matters. Small business allows for connection, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
Relephant Read for more:
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Provided by author