Wouldn’t it be good if the answer to this question was that the words ‘sweatshop free’ were on the clothes tag? Well, sometimes it is. Or if not on the tag, it’s all over the companies website. This kind of guarantee is obviously the best place to start, so if I do need to buy something, I’ll always check out the brands that are guaranteed to be sweat shop free. Here’s a small list that I know about so far:

American Apparel, Herbivore Clothing Company, Etiko, Justice Clothing, Pants for PovertyNew Internationalist

I’ve added a page to the tab list at the top of the blog that lists all the companies and products that I can find that are guaranteed sweatshop free.

But what about if you have a favourite brand or item and you’re not sure if it’s made in a sweatshop? I recommend asking. This achieves two things. Firstly, you’ll get your answer (well, maybe) and secondly, you’ll let the company know that this issue is important to you. If you’re like me, you might be a little shy about fronting up to the sales staff and asking (I plan to get a lot more confident at doing this!). Actually, you might find that the sales staff have no idea. A less confrontational method is to email the head office. You can easily find an email address for the head office on the company website. Here’s an email I recently sent to Lorna Jane :

Hi. I love your clothes and am wondering if you can tell me where they are manufactured and whether or not your manufacturing process involves the use of sweatshop labour? Thanks.

To their credit, they did reply, about four days later. Which is good, because some companies simply won’t reply. If this happens – I don’t buy their clothes anymore. Here’s the reply I got :

Thank you for your Lorna Jane enquiry.

At Lorna Jane we only work with product manufacturers who adhere to the codes of conduct stipulated by their clients who put people’s needs and environmental sustainability first.

Our product is manufactured in China and we use long standing, trusted, ethical manufactures. We have been working with our principal supplier for over 20 years. We manufacture high quality garments, and therefore pay premium price. The factories we use pay their staff above average wages and confirm workers conditions are of highest standards.

It all sounds great. But given that I know the reality of how dodgy inspections are on manufacturing processes in China, I decided to dig a little deeper. I sent back the following email :

Thanks so much for getting back to me regarding how your clothes are manufactured in China. As this issue is really important to me, could you let me know the names of the manufacturing companies you use in China? I want to do some of my own research to assure myself that your clothes are not made in sweatshops. I LOVE Lorna Jane stuff and buy a lot of it (I’m a gym junky!), but I need to feel good about buying them.

You’ll notice that I was super polite and clearly positioned myself as a frequent purchaser. This isn’t a lie, given that my daughter Ruby now also goes to the gym and fits into an adult size. Potentially, our family will purchase a fair amount of Lorna Jane clothes in the years to come. They’re sturdy, comfortable and made of fairly impressive fabric that really does wick away sweat. That said, a simple assurance from the company that it’s all fine isn’t going to cut it for me. Here’s the reply they sent back :

Thank you for your enquiry. As the agreements with our manufacturers are exclusive and confidential I am unable to confirm details of any of the suppliers we use.

Hmm. Now why would that information be confidential? I just wanted the name of the company. Then I would have searched on the Internet to see if that company came up and what it said. Given that any product that is ‘Made in China’ is likely to be made by underpaid and overworked women and sometimes children, who work in badly ventilated and sometimes toxic work environments, I will not buy ‘Made in China’. So Lorna Jane is out. Which means I’m either on the hunt for a sweatshop free sports brand (!) or my gym clothes are going to get a really good testing for durability.

So, in summary, if you want to know the ethics of how a piece of clothing is made :

1. Check the label to see where it’s made. Made in Australia, after the 1.1.11 is most likely fine, as the new mandatory Outworkers Code of Practice comes in then.

2. Ask the company either via email or in person. If you don’t get an answer or you get one that doesn’t satisfy, you might like to try a bit of covert activism and leave a Change Room Calling Card in one of the change rooms.You can do this by making a little card with a short message encouraging the brand to clean up their manufacturing practices.

If you do ask the company and get a reply, let me know and I’ll add a page to this blog that lists company replies.

Go forth and question!