who made my knickers?
Part of my transition to dressing the part I want to play in life has included seeking information about where and how the products I purchase are made. Like many, my heart was saddened by the 2013 Bangladesh garment factory fire that killed over 1,000 workers. John Oliver's exposé on the fashion industry also made a serious impression on me. I had to take a look in the mirror -- and my closet -- and ask myself what I was really paying for.
Truly quality fabric is not cheap. Neither is artisan labor if you care about working conditions and human rights. Throw in the cost of design, promotion and transport, and anything that seems like an amazing deal falls short in one if not most of these categories. Paying an additional premium for high-end lingerie might seem like an easy solution, but it may only get you a garment with a big name. High overhead costs can lead the company to look for shortcuts in the supply chain.
Not so with family-owned and operated lingerie icon Cosabella. Their story is fascinating and serves as an example of becoming successful by sticking to values. In the 1980s, when faced with economic pressure to sacrifice Italian-made products in order to remain cost effective, the Campello family doubled down on the quality-vs-quantity principle and discontinued imports from other manufacturers. By gaining full control of production and oversight of not only quality but working conditions of their employees, Cosabella has become one of the most successful and respected companies in the industry, well known for its "lusso quotidiano" (everyday luxury) style. Although headquartered in Miami, products are still manufactured in Italy which has strict laws protecting workers’ safety. The brand is passionate about using the highest grade fibers and staying true to their Italian heritage and old world artisanship, rather than exploiting cheap materials and foreign labor to make products at low prices.
I'd be remiss without also noting Etsy artisans and small-label brands. What many of these designers lack in variety or established reputation is made up for by the fact that I am often interacting directly with the manufacturer herself. While many have yet to tackle the ins and outs of ethically sourcing their fabrics, it can be much more rewarding as a consumer to line the pockets of designer-producers than middlemen. I still have a host of big name lingerie and bikinis in my drawer, but more and more I'm turning to smaller and lesser-known lingerie brands with an individual or small team who makes the pieces I treasure most.
There's no silver bullet when it comes to finding "ethically" produced clothing - it's complicated. From the sustainability of materials and fair trade to environmental practices, treatment of animals and more, it can make you feel like giving up and looking the other way. And it is unlikely that any one company can meet all the requirements that make an organization "ethical," but finding brands that are focused on these goals, rather than putting profits above people and the planet, is a good place to start.