Shopping Menswear Consciously


shopping menswear consciously fashion revolution week styleforum

When you dine at a hip restaurant, they love telling you about the plate and what went into it – the provenance of the meat, the endangered heirloom vegetables, and the hand-harvested produce fresh from the restaurants garden. But it doesn’t stop there. We often can’t help but learn about the goods we buy, especially when buying high quality products. Oftentimes, companies are putting faces to the makers, showering us with images of their workers, the designers, and their facilities. In response, we buy into it–we care that we receive quality food, or that we are having skilled workers make quality, sturdy products.

So is there any reason why we can’t know about our clothing as well? Sometimes we know about who made our clothes or the materials that went into them, but that oftentimes isn’t a factor for why we buy it. Much of the time, we choose clothes because they suit us, because they are a bargain, or because we need it for a certain circumstance. Sometimes we make a choice because of who makes it–but we oftentimes choose it because it’s a specific brand that makes it, not a person.

shopping menswear consciously fashion revolution week styleforum

Ask your favorite brands: “Who Made My Clothes?”

The Fashion Revolution week was born in the UK to commemorate the disaster of Rana Plaza, in which 3639 workers lost their life when the building they were working in collapsed. These people were working in extremely unsafe conditions to produce garments for brands like Primark, Walmart, JC Penney, and Benetton.

The founders of the movement want to raise awareness among consumers and invite them to ask “Who Made My Clothes?” to the brands that they support. You probably came across a few pictures of friends on social media who wore their clothes inside out to expose the label and tagged the brand to ask who made their clothes.

The aim of the Fashion Revolution is to address and raise awareness of consumers shopping at big box stores and “fast fashion” brands. For us clothing enthusiasts, these stores do not make up the bulk of our wardrobe, and rarely make it into our dressers. But sometimes we buy our disposables (underwear, t-shirts, lounge pants) from these stores or places like them. We want to feel like we made a good purchase and to know what we are buying.

With regards to consumption, two questions come to mind: First, how much of the information that we receive about a product is accurate? Second, should we really care about who is making our stuff?

To answer the first question: part of the problem is most of what we consume is the marketing that brands churn out, urging us to buy their products. And brands pick up on that fact, thereby developing more and more marketing campaigns around their producers. They sell to us that they have family providers or old factories. But it doesn’t mean that this information is not misleading; we see products made in Italy that are just “finished” in Italy. We see pictures of excellent working conditions when they are terrible. We hear that the product is “full grain” but in reality the marketing team picked up on the word and doesn’t know what that means. As consumers, we have to be more particular, more critically-minded, and more informed in order to pick apart these marketing campaigns and really determine just how accurate the PR is.

Whatever happened to “union made goods”? There are still plenty of these products, but we don’t seem to care as much anymore. That is in itself a shame. We should realize that economically it makes sense to compensate people accordingly for their time, so that they in turn can contribute to the economy.

This returns us to the second question; the answer to which is yes, we should care. We oftentimes look at small producers and decide that we want to buy from that small producer because we like the quality of their goods; we know that what we are going to get the person stands by their work. Similarly, when we choose to buy from larger brands, we have the power and the right to ask who makes the clothes. By asking this question, we show that we are invested in their product and perhaps these brands will invest more in their labor.

It is important that we become more conscientious consumers. Obviously we should buy goods if we like them, but perhaps we should change our criteria. Instead of buying something because it is the cheapest option, we should budget and buy what is the best option for within our budget. By doing so, we are likely to get better quality goods. Instead of buying something because it’s on sale, we should save and buy things that are more likely to be worn. Instead of buying from a giant chain store and disposing of our apparel when it wears out, we should buy more clothing (or anything at all) of high quality and treat it well. Instead of buying new shoddy crap that falls out of fashion quickly, we can (and many Styleforum members do) find stylish gently used garments that have a long lifespan both in durability and in aesthetic.

By doing this, we not only contribute to slowing down the pace of our apparel consumption, but we also avoid wastefulness. In return, we fill our lives with clothes that we are going to enjoy for a long time, and that will see a lot of use, providing us with satisfaction.

shopping menswear consciously fashion revolution week styleforum

Bowties from Vanda Fine Clothing: each one is handmade in their workshop in Singapore.

Harkening back to days gone by, in which we had tailors make us this or that–we never really had to think about who made our clothes. And for some of us today, we don’t have to do that either, especially those of us buying suiting or classic menswear from smaller makers or tailors. We know that the work is happening on site, we can and oftentimes meet the cutters or the tailors. Even having a garment altered, we see who is working on our clothing. And just think, how much happier you are when you get that garment made just for you, when you see how well it fits. We should still be in awe, seeing a swatch of cloth and seeing the finished product. It’s like magic: that joy in the hearts of both the maker and the recipient should be enough to remind us that from where we choose to buy our clothes matters.

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e. v. Empey

Mr. Empey is the type of guy who prefers English style in the winter and Italian style in the summer. Or at least he used to. Now he's uncertain where he stands, since he travels a lot and has to visit a fair number of places where Americana workwear would be the best option. His appreciation of menswear stems more from a love of artisanship, so naturally, he also appreciates other crafts including cocktails and quality cuisine.

11 thoughts on “Shopping Menswear Consciously

  1. I couldn’t agree more with the content of this article. This article explores to some extent certain buyers affinity to high street brands simply because of the logo emblazoned luxury attached to such brands without knowing much to its construction, provenance, quality & longevity. Thanks for creating awareness about what we buy and the motive surrounding our purchase(s). I would rather reside in an altogether different league where sartorialism is not inhibited by economic status. Very inspirational & intuitive article. Regards 🙂

    • Thank you very much for your kind words. And I agree with you: economic status has come to dominate clothing way too much. We think that twenty or thirty years ago, clothes that were from makers like Italian or French Haute brands or the like were status symbols; now we have turned to clothes from overpriced labels that sell themselves as boutique or artisanal. In reality, the clothing that we ought to buy is that which is the unsung in marketing, but demonstrates evidently its quality.

  2. “…we should budget and buy what is the best option for within our budget.”

    I think it’s almost on point except the best option may as well be interpreted as “the cheapest”. What consumers should be conscious about is their needs. Buying what they need will result in higher value.

    • This is true what you point out. And I agree completely. If you buy what you need, instead of necessarily just wants or “perceived” needs, you will end up having better return on investment. Thinking about clothing as cost per wear is a good way to do this: since clothes that are classically stylish see more wear, and since we tend to invest more into them (leading to a greater upfront cost), the cost per wear may end up being a much greater value than the cost per wear for something that never gets worn or falls apart quickly. Additionally, by buying clothes that we need, we see ourselves wearing them more often.

      • Thank you and I’m glad we are in agreement. Shopping consciously can be discussed from various aspects but ultimately as one of the two forces that created the industry, the demand, it’s all about consumers’ awareness of their needs. What do you think will make people ask the question “Who Made My Clothes”? Their needs, for shared value, philosophy, aesthetics with the brands.

        Awareness of our needs is liberating as it frees us from retail buyers’, the media’s, and anyone else’s opinions. It’s empowering as with clear needs comes with greater interest in menswear and desire to maximize return. It’s a win win for both demand and supply.

  3. Thanks for writing about a timely and important topic! I had seen photos of “I made your clothes” posters on Instagram but didn’t know about Fashion Revolution week, so thanks for providing background info. You made many good points, and it seems like some of them are becoming more widely held, which is great to see. Making clothes is indeed magical – any child whose parents have made custom Halloween costumes knows this – but we need to make sure that it is also safe and sustaining for the individuals involved.

    • Thank you for your warm comments. The goal of Fashion Revolution is to raise awareness, and in so doing perhaps change some minds of producers.

      Oftentimes the making of your own clothes or getting clothes made just for you helps provide you with fond memories and garments that see more use or respect because of emotional attachment. And having garments see more use–increasing their lifecycle–is a more sustainable activity as a whole.

  4. A related issue is throwaway clothing versus heirloom quality. There is no question that bespoke clothes cost more than off-the-rack (although the difference can be surprisingly small when it comes to mass-produced designer brands that are marked up for their “status” appeal). But handmade clothing is meant to last for decades and in the long run can actually cost less. Tailors and shoemakers have their signature styles and cuts, but good ones don’t slavishly follow the latest fashion trends; as such their creations should have “classic” appeal that never goes out of style.

    • Thanks for the point. You are correct re: handmade clothing, which in general lasts much longer due to the quality of the fabrics used, the higher attention to detail, et cetera. But I would say it isn’t even necessarily hand made clothing, but well made clothing can last for a long time. The greater length of time, the greater the skills, or the increased quality of fabrics that go into making the garment, the likelihood that the garment will last longer increases accordingly. Objects that are made in classic, simple style will always last longer in how much use they see than things that are fashion/fad forward.

  5. This is a very important topic, and as a very small designer/ maker – specializing in bespoke, I find myself right up against “mass luxury” that is marked up on it’s “status appeal” which is not at all reflective of value, but marketing, as Max notes, above.
    I started in women’s wear and added men’s about 12 years ago. I feel women today are much more swayed by label, marketing & need it now, than when I started out. My male clientele is stylistically self-aware and much less swayed by “label” or trend. They understand and appreciate quality & longevity. I see a huge chasm between the way men and women think about their clothing purchases at this level.

    I think it’s because the ideal and option of getting something cut or altered to fit, which so many guys are accustomed to, has been all but lost to women over the years, it’s affected their relationship to clothing. Then there’s the exhausting churn of “fashion”. This loss of relationship gets magnified tremendously across the board (both men and women) with mass -marketing – be it Luxury or Trend. It’s only for a season , after all….

    A LOT of education has to happen. The marketing and manufacturing mindset has to evolve. The consumer mindset has to change. What Style Forum & Fashion Revolution are doing is a great place to start, and it needs to be advocated. Everywhere.

    • Thank you for your experiences and insights. My wife feels the exact same way and prior to meeting me, the most adjustments that she would have with a garment is perhaps having the pant legs shortened.

      The bigger issue is that its no longer about seasons but about micro-seasons and weekly shifts in style, accelerating the entire design process, production process, and in season trends. All this does is encourage more waste, more expenditure on marketing, and more pointless consumption.

      Please do keep up the good work making garments that can be treasured rather than trashed.

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