Wednesday, May 30, 2007

No China Diet: Buying "Pre-Owned" Clothing

When you start checking clothing labels, you'll find that many items of clothing are made in China, and unless you deliberately seek out non-sweatshop goods, you'll find that just about everything comes from a sweatshop.

As someone who writes about workplace ethics, this concerns me greatly. I don't want to support regimes, such as China, that use sweatshops. You might think that only lower-end lines at K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and Target are made in China, but higher-end clothes are as well. My particular favorite brand of clothing for work is Ann Taylor, and while the fabrics are often Italian, the 32% of clothes are all pieced together in China.... So no Ann Taylor for me.*

Ahem. (Cough, cough)

At least no new Ann Taylor. My compromise is that I will occasionally buy pre-owned (used) clothing (thereby not contributing any new dollar to the Chinese economy) or clothing that is not made in sweatshops. I'll post more about brands made in places other than China in a different post, but here are some tips for buying used clothing:

Know What Brands to expect The surrounding community creates much of the thrift store merchandise. Perhaps this is obvious. But, for example, Santa Clarita, California, is a bedroom community, and is about 90% Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's, Mervyn's, Old Navy, Gap, and The Limited brands with (you guessed it) some Ann Taylor thrown in. Many items still have tags; many items seem totally unworn.

Know Sizes It's much easier to buy used clothes, particularly if you don't want try them on, if you know what size you wear in different brands. For example, I wear a 8 in Ann Taylor, but a 10 at the Gap, and a 12 at Old Navy, no doubt a 14 at Target. I just get fatter as the price goes down (or slimmer as the price goes up). But that sort of self-knowledge can go a long way toward screening clothes.

Rule Out Stains, Rips, and Smells Clothing is donated only for a handful of reasons, which are useful to identify as you sort through clothes:

a. death or divorce
b. style (out of style, too hip for person who purchased it, too matronly, etc.)
c. fit (too big, too small)
d. damage (stains, tears, and god help me, smells)

Obviously, you want to stay away from option d, and choose pieces from options a-c. With pants, you especially want to check out if the zipper works, and if they are worn in the crotch (ew). With tops, you want to check out if buttons are missing, if the collar is clean, and if there are armpit stains.

Clean I also wash everything in hot water when I get home. I also take a shower.

I buy clothes that are beautiful in some way and/or make me feel good, which is the same criteria I apply to new clothes.

Any other tips?

*It is worth noting that I'm not a fashonista in any sense. I was trained as a geologist, and could, given the possible implosion of the publishing industry, work as a low-level geologist and inspect gas station tanks. Geologists, as you may know, are the worst dressed of the scientists, and it has taken years for me to realize that I do not need to dress as an extra large flannel-clothed man in order to be taken seriously in the workplace.