Fashion: My Manifesto

February 19th, 2009 - filed under: The Fashion » Clothing and Accessories

In late autumn 2008, I made a dramatic decision regarding where, and how, I consumed clothing. I’d like to take a moment here to expand upon my concept of the Ethical Sartorialist, in a public declaration of my intentions. Primarily, I intend to never compromise my morality for the sake of glamour (difficult), comfort (harder), or discount (oh ouchy!!!), while still maintaining impeccable style. I will be writing at length about each of these topics in the future, but for now, I’d like to introduce you to the framework of my fashion philosophy: dressing to impress, with a conscience at rest.

Cruelty-Free Clothing
Being veg*n is not simply a diet choice – it is a lifestyle. It is a way of life led without contributing to the suffering of living things.  As a veg*n, I won’t support industries centered around taking from animals.  I won’t purchase leather (suede, shearling, and skin), fur, wool (mohair, pashmina, cashmere, and angora included), or silk.  I will not buy these products new, and I will not buy them secondhand either, because I think I can look quite fabulous without them.  For the sake of wastefulness and financial woe, I’ll continue to wear my ‘pre-gan’ leather and wool until it wears out.  These will have been the last animal products I ever bought.

Here are some excellent online vegan retailers:

Alternative Outfitters

Herbivore Clothing

Moo Shoes

PETA Store

Sweatshop-Free Clothing
The vast majority of textiles produced today are made using sweatshop or near sweatshop labor in the third world.  It is close to impossible to buy new clothing without supporting this deplorable practice of pillage and exploitation.  For this reason, I buy almost exclusively secondhand – which I just adore.  Secondhand pieces are cheaper and more interesting, and have the added bonus of coming without a guilty conscience.  The exclusion I make here is for undergarments, which I do not advocate buying used.  Look out for an article on Bonzai-approved bras and panties, coming soon. 

American-Made and Union-Made Clothing
Luckily, there are still some companies that manufacture their goods in America.  When you find them, support them!   Just be careful about putting your faith in a ‘made in the USA’ tag, and always do your own research before you buy.  The Internet is a great place for researching national corporations.  Look for websites that are open about their manufacturing practices and their worker compensation/unionization.  American-made products are a selling point, so if the company’s claims are legit, they’ll want to advertise them. 

In the same vein, another great option is to buy from a local artisan or craftsman.  Purchase clothing from a burgeoning dressmaker, commission jewelry from a master goldsmith, or buy your sweaters, scarves and blankets from a neighborhood weaver.  Most cities hold craft fairs and other events where local talent can hock their wares.  These are great opportunities to compile a closet full of unique and lasting garments.  Etsy, Ebay, Craigslist, and the rest of the internets are also excellent resources for finding ethical items.  Your options here are endless, although I do encourage you to poke around your own town.  Supporting local businesses and cutting down on energy-expensive shipping are two very easy steps that can make a quite an impact. 

As an aside, it seems important to mention everyone’s favorite ‘made in America’ brand, American Apparel.  AA has built an empire offering comfortable cotton basics in trendy cuts, paired with a feel-good message of workers rights.  But, this has come hand in hand with a demeaning and misogynistic advertising campaign, which seems to excite and interest as many customers as it repels.  For me, the issue is not about fictional sexploitation advertising, but about the real-life actions of AA founder Dov Charney.  Charney has been accused of exposing his junk to reporters, of walking around the office in skimpy underwear, and has been involved in not 1, not 2, not 3 or 4 but FIVE sexual harassment lawsuits.  Nobody knows the entire story, but as a feminist and an activist, I cannot in good conscience support this company.  So I don’t directly buy American Apparel products.  However, whereas ‘cruelty clothing’ like leather and wool are strictly off-limits, I do not have a problem buying AA secondhand.  A plain white cotton tee is a plain white cotton tee, as long as my money isn’t going to support a company with questionable conduct.


For me, being an Ethical Sartorialist is all about putting the control back into my hands.  I know that I have this incredibly powerful voice, and I am determined to use it – so I speak with my dollar!   This voice hollers when I don’t buy something (boycott), but it also shouts when I DO buy something (pro-cot!).  We create a demand for cruelty-free and morally-made goods by spending our cold hard cash.  Then, love it or hate it, our capitalist system will require bigger business to switch gears and supply what we desire.  We can use this system to change the system.  We can take back the power. 

And, we can look really friggin’ cute while we do it.     


  • :: smo ::

    one of my favorite fair trade/union made clothing manufacturers is “no sweat”:

    you might have seen their “converse” style shoes with the union fist around [apparently they're looking for a new factory for those currently]. they also have a few vegan belts, and some great tee shirts. i did a silkscreening run on some last year and they seem pretty great! the only issue i had was that since they’re relatively small they don’t always have everything in stock. but definitely worth checking out!

    i’m actually buying some belts from them right now!

  • Sayward

    @ ::smo:: – I love No Sweat! I have the red high tops and they have lasted me *years*. Very good brand. I’ll be writing an article soon on ethical clothing companies, and they are definitely at the top of my list.

    Let me know how you like the belts!

  • Tessa Zeng

    Wow. What an amazing manifesto. I love what you say about “putting the control back into my hands” – that’s been the intention of everything I’ve ever written about fashion and designed this year! I write all the time about liberating your own authentic style and using your voice through what you choose to wear, but I really like your take on what one can do with money, too. Leverage everything for freedom, I say :D

  • Jane @ The Borrowed Abode

    I found my way over here from Peas & Crayons, and I’m so stoked! Over the last year or two I slowly made the decision to vote with my dollars. I am horrified at how the majority of companies have left their ethics and morals at the door of their sweatshops, just for the sake of making a bigger profit.
    I’m also appalled at how people don’t bat an eye at it, becuase they’re too busy being thrilled that they can stock up on clothes at Walmart, Target, etc – at prices that are too good to be true.

    I recently found the company Alternative Apparel which is different from American Apparel, and so far they seem to fit the bill. However, I definitely am doing more thrift store shopping and just less shopping in general.

  • Sayward

    @ Jane – Hi, welcome to the site! Thanks for the heads up on Alternative Apparel, I’m going to check them out. I’m hoping to do a small run of tees in the near future . . . ;-)

  • Moira

    Thanks for posting this, Sayward. Back in my Berkeley days, I was living this 100%. Since then, my passions have evolved and diverted to other issues, and I simply just haven’t kept up with the facts. It is sooo helpful to read this post and be reinspired.

  • Pingback: Through the Looking Glass: Monday in Raleigh | Rachel in Veganland

  • Kristen Creecy Ramsey

    I love this post! I am just beginning my journey of ethical buying. I’ve been a thrift/secondhand shopper for a while but just recently started thinking more about sweatshops and people being harmed from the goods we buy. Thanks for sharing. I found your blog searching “ethical bras” and I really appreciate that list you posted, also!