Handled with Care: From the Shirtwaist Fire to Sustainable Style

womenandchildren[quote]In matters of principle stand like a rock. In matters of style go with the flow.[/quote]

- Thomas Jefferson

March 25, 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of America’s landmark industrial disasters, which killed 146 garment workers, most of whom were young immigrant women. As the city and its firefighters (with hoses that only reached six stories) watched women and teenagers jumping from the burning building, important resolutions about worker protection laws and building safety were also igniting. One of the responses to the fire was a 54-hour work-week for women and child workers, which at the time, was a step in the right direction. Thankfully, the shirtwaist still lives on, as does our capacity to follow Jefferson’s advice on guiding principles – integrating ethics with clothing production, and social justice with style.

Here are five products that have been handled with care, highlighting the movement toward sustainability and ethics:

1. The Long Heirloom Dress by Gaia Conceptions
heirloom dress gaia conceptionsIn order to minimize waste, each garment from Gaia Conceptions is custom-made. Founder Andrea Crouse uses organic fabrics and low-impact and natural dyes, so that each piece is “rooted in ethical production from start to finish.”
2. The Philanthropist Briefcase by Apolis
Philanthropist Briefcase ApolisThis “Philanthropist Briefcase” from Apolis uses cotton grown, milled, woven and dyed in Uganda, by four formerly displaced local farmers, in an effort to rebuild Uganda’s cotton industry through reemployment, rather than charity. Apolis, translated as “global citizen,” is a Certified B Corporation, which means they comply with higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. 60% of their products are from local, LA-Based manufacturers, and the rest is from cooperatives in Uganda, Peru, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
3. The Mexico Bracelet from aMano Fair Trade
Mexico Bracelet from aMano Fair TradeThe second best thing to shopping the streets of Mexico is buying fairly-traded artisan crafts from home. aMano’s fair-trade accessories are hand-woven by over 150 Mayan Quiche women in Guatemala, Mexico and Thailand. These friendship bracelets are handmade in eastern Mexico and traditionally symbolize love and loyalty.
4. Fugitive Denim by Rachel Louise Snyder
Fugitive Denim by Rachel Louise SnyderIf you’ve contributed your fair share to the denim market, one way you can become a more conscientious shareholder is by reading this book by Rachel Louise Snyder, which follows the life of a pair of jeans from cotton field to retailer, and was named one of the best business books of the year by The Library Journal in 2007.
5. The Baltic Leather Clutch from Indego Africa
Baltic Leather Clutch from Indego AfricaInedgo Africa is an award-winning nonprofit which partners with more than 400 women artisans in Rwanda, and works with major brands like J. Crew and Nicole Miller. The leather on this Batik Clutch was sourced locally in Rwanda, and comes with a tag signed by the seamstress who made it.
What are your favorite sustainable brands?  We want to hear about them!