American Apparel Doesn’t Get Enough Credit. Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, Nau, other progressive leaders are often Made In China.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jul 28, 2008
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At left: Patagonia’s admirably transparent Footprint Chronicles show where their clothing is assembled. We wish other brands would follow suit. At right: American Apparel has nothing to be transparent about: just about everything’s made in their LA factory by fair labor workers.

It’s called Vertical Integration. By directly controlling all or as many as possible aspects of your own product—from sourcing to manufacture to distribution to retail—you save big bucks. Folks criticize AA because of the immorality of it’s whacky founder’s voracious, very public sexual appetites. But said same founder has built a big factory in downtown LA where garment workers toil in a solar-powered English-teaching well-paying environmentally-responsible environment.

And no one criticizes Eileen Fisher, the progressive woman-owned company, with its serene models posing on serene beaches or Patagonia with its gritty iconoclastic integrity and openness re: its manufacture process for not going Made in USA. And that no one includes myself, until this morning, pre-coffee, I sat moodily reading the New Yorker wondering for the umpteenth morning in a row why certain great companies support the hell out of elephant, our little indie rag, and some could give a Shiite about such grassroots endeavors.

And so I said to myself, Self, you gotta give AA their due. They’re one of the pioneers (even if 15 years after Patagonia) in getting sustainable organic cotton out there (conventional chemicallish cotton, which you’re likely wearing right now, is one of the world’s greatest toxin producers).

I wish my idol, Yvon Chouinard, would bring the manufacture process back here, to the US, even if just a bit—and retrain a generation of Americans to make his sturdy wares. He’d become an American hero—not just a hero of adventurers or environmentalists or entrepreneurs, as he is already. An American hero. His influence is great, and far-reaching—and I wouldn’t be surprised if others like prAna or Nau or Horny Toad or North Face would follow suit.

In the meantime, I’ll support both companies…and I’ll buy vintage as much as possible.

Time to make a cuppa (organic, fair-trade Green Mountain) coffee (from me old high school home state of VT.).


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


21 Responses to “American Apparel Doesn’t Get Enough Credit. Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, Nau, other progressive leaders are often Made In China.”

  1. Joelle says:

    Yes, right! I truly believe in organic and fairtrade business but I don’t find their marketing very “fairtrade”. Here, in Canada, their ads have been banish because of explicit sexual contents using minors models. Isn’t the owner of that same company who has been accused of paedophilia? (please excuse my bad english…I speak french)

  2. mari says:

    I agree with keeping things as local as possible, but there is always a flip side… I have worked with the factory that makes Patagonia’s 100% recycled jackets, and understand why they were sourced to that part of the world. The simple fact is that the factory in question has the technology, means and experience that might not even be available in the states, and certainly not at a comparable price. If the same jackets were made here, they would be so expensive that they wouldn’t be purchased, which just sends the message to the decision makers that there is no market for green fabrics.

  3. […] minor caveat—these are made in China, which is a complicated issue, and even my idol Patagonia and other progressive businesses make much stuff in China, which is un-ecological but keeps things […]

  4. […] or bad? Is this a lot of both (probably)—and if so, how? Should be boycott or buycott? Or buy away! Well, if you ask us, the choice is clear: go local and keep the Christmas spirit […]

  5. […] Waylon Lewis (elephant’s ed-in-chief) has too, highlighting their fair labor standards and vertical integration (and I’ve heard he’s a fan of their underwear but I can’t verify that). Several innovative […]

  6. […] Patagonia, Threadless, Seventh Gen, Method, New Belgium, Chipotle, Planet Green and Treehugger, Eileen Fisher, Gaiam…in an age of Climate Change…the LOHAS demographic (300 Billion big) is actively […]

  7. Jonas says:

    Eh – nice article. However, guess what American Apparel hires illegal aliens — ooops… and has little regard for stealing the likenesses of celebrities… boy I love hypocrisy. We are so, good. except for the laws we flagrantly break. ehh not so much

  8. Mimi says:

    Is it really such a bad thing that people in China get jobs?! Where would they get money to feed their families if those low-paying jobs didn't exist? Their wages might be cents compared to the dollars we would get paid to work at a factory in the states, but ever heard of currency conversion? Also, prices for food etc are considerably cheaper in those areas too.

  9. […] we here at elephant are huge fans of what American Apparel does: one of few apparel companies that’s still Made in the USA, fair labor, vertical integration, affordable, […]

  10. […] watching this. Many so-called eco-responsible, liberal-loved companies—Apple, Whole Foods, prAna, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Nau—make/get their stuff in China, Vietnam… But don’t worry! The factories are […]

  11. Who cares if they spoof Woody Allen, except for Woody himself? Sure, it's not right, but it's far less harmful than making your wares half a world away in sketchy factories, no?

  12. Mimi, good questions. If they're paid well, have good conditions to work in, and don't employ children…then it's not so bad labor-wise. It might even be, as you say, a good thing.

    Still, it's far from "eco-responsible" to ship stuff half a world away and back.

  13. […] proven to the business world that one can be hugely profitable while being Made in the USA (unlike most of our other favorite companies), offering creat cuts and classic styles in sometimes-organic […]

  14. via

    Christopher T
    I have a couple of AA's black, organic cotton t-shirts, purchased from Rawganique…good stuff!

    Just because something is made in America doesn't make it 'right'. If a brand uses Fair Trade and finds a production facility that seeks to increase the quality of life for the people who work there, is that happiness less important to you than an American worker's happiness. I am a bit sick of all this Made in America sentiment-it comes off in a very nationalist way to me. I do not see the point in drawing lines all over this precious little planet.
    Justice is justice, I like to believe it is universal, and in the end when any designer brings decent livelihoods to workers, they have created more joy in the world. In my book, this is a good thing.

    Mira F
    Waylon is crazy about America Apparel 🙂

    Jolinda VH
    We are one tribe!

    Diane M
    I'm with Julia. We all need to make a living wherever we are, and it's not a good practice to diss fair trade with other countries. Next thing you know, they come up with something we can't get or make in this country, and we have burned our bridge to access it. Whether we like it or not, we will always need each other on this planet. "No man … See Moreis an island". We need to learn to get along and work together. As it is, with all our world problems, it's as if we are standing around watching the world burn and we are arguing about who started the fire and who's going to put it out. Just plain STUPID.
    Of course! Fully agree. But you're presupposing fair labor. Have you read recent articles in Times about Chinese factories?

    I'm sure you know what conditions can be like in Third World countries? Watch this video before you get your ALL CAPS out:
    Julia, this isn't about rah rah USA USA so much as buying as local as possible from sources that we know are fair labor. If you are buying, say, an African reed basket, and you know it's fair labor, then good on you.

    That's not what this article is about, which you know if you read it before commenting.

    In any case, I fully agree with your comment's sentiment: people everywhere matter equally—that's why we have to make sure we're buying fair labor, whatever we buy and wherever it's from.

  15. Adriana says:

    I wish my former employer (Levi Strauss) would bring manufacturing back to the U.S. I won't buy thier brands any more because they're made elsewhere. Such a bummer…

  16. laksmi says:

    American Apparel ads look like pornos, so I will never buy any of their stuff. All they do is make my neighborhood look like a whore zone.

  17. All in all, I like her. Yes, I think she is dramatic at times, but it seems like everyday communication includes a little showmanship to convery your message. I’ll tell you, she seems to have a great style! I like her!

  18. […] and business types that tells us what AA is thinking behind why they pay their workers well and make their clothes in the USA, “defying conventional wisdom,” and why their ads are so […]

  19. […] and the best organic cotton blank tees, they treat (most) of their employees really well, and are Made in the USA, […]

  20. […] process backwards. The only real chance of finding American clothing is to seek out the brands that manufacture their goods in the States first, and search within them. That 2% chance of finding something American-made by accident cannot […]