In this article, we will see how buying locally made clothes – meaning produced in the country you live in – has potential benefits in terms of sustainability.
Sustainability is about the environment, and also about social and economic dynamics. By purchasing clothes manufactured in our own country, we help to create jobs for local workers and contribute to the strength and sustainability of their families, not to mention the boost it provides to the national economy.
Every time a manufacturing plant shuts down in favor of offshore competitors, not only do local workers lose their jobs, but also the country loses know-how and a certain degree of autonomy; eventually, an entire industry may disappear. In the short term, this may help generate more profits, but with what impact in the long term?
It is much easier to control what’s happening locally than in other countries. While, as consumers, we can have a reasonably good idea of the labor standards and laws in our own country, and the kind of working conditions they offer workers, it may be much harder to know what the deal is in other countries. This is the social aspect of sustainability.
Waste disposal practices are still inconsistent from one country to another and unfortunately, in many countries, wrong-doing is not so uncommon. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lays down strict guidelines, as does the European Commission in the EU. Respecting these guidelines is a starting point towards achieving environmental sustainability.
Besides the brand under which a garment is sold, the country in which it was made also tends to be an indicator of its quality. A high-quality shirt can be worn more times and kept much longer than a poor-quality one that has been shipped halfway around the world before arriving on our shelves.
If you live in the U.S., a pair of jeans that is handcrafted in the U.S. from American grown organic cotton, will travel far less throughout the manufacturing process, thus reducing its carbon footprint, than the same pair of jeans that has to come from Asia.
By nature, locally made clothes have a fundamental edge over those coming from afar, regarding the transition towards sustainability. However, other important variables need to be taken into account (raw material, production of fabric, manufacturing technology) in order to assess the environmental footprint of a garment.