Taking A Closer Look At Los Angeles Factories

The past few years have seen an uptick in ‘Made in LA’ and Made in USA clothing brands, garments, and fashion lines. So, does this all mean things are being made ethically? Of course, the answer is a little more complicated than yes or no.

Clothing made in Los Angeles can absolutely be made ethically, however a ‘Made in LA’ tag doesn’t guarantee that the piece in your closet was made fairly. There seems to be no magic formula to ethical manufacturing besides attention to detail and a commitment to overseeing the entire process.

Behind every production house, there are people who make choices every day to either protect their employees or leave them vulnerable. These choices determine whether something is made ethically, not the location. Garment factories in Los Angeles don’t automatically protect workers’ rights, yet there are many businesses dedicated to making it that way.

Behind every production house, there are people who make choices every day to either protect their employees or leave them vulnerable. These choices determine whether something is made ethically, not the location.

'Made In LA' In The News

Last year, a scathing article came out of the Los Angeles Times. The piece was circled on Twitter and landed in my newsfeed, where I received a harsh reality check. As someone who lives in LA, is connected to the ethical fashion community, and believes the fashion industry can do better, the news was heartbreaking.

The 2017 article, titled “Behind a $13 shirt, a $6-an hour worker”, followed various workers at a local garment factory. Reports from the U.S. Department of Labor, after investigating 77 factories in LA, found that typical wages were no more than $7 an hour, while many employees worked about 10 hours a day.

In addition, Safety and Health Magazine reported on a study from the Garment Worker Center, the UCLA Labor Center and UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health in 2016. This short piece is full of shocking findings, like 82% of garment workers said they never received any health or safety training.

Unfortunately, ‘Made in LA’ (and ‘Made in the USA’ for that matter) does not guarantee fair labor rights and safe working environments.

Many brands publicize when items or lines are ‘Made in LA’ and, as consumers we’ve been trained to believe this automatically makes the production of the item more ethical. Unfortunately, ‘Made in LA’ (and ‘Made in the USA’ for that matter) does not guarantee fair labor rights and safe working environments.

There’s even been a documentary associating a new definition with the phrase: exploitation. The film follows three garment factory workers–turned-activists as they recount their experience in clothing production. Most of the victims of these injustices are immigrants, many undocumented. Some owners of these Los Angeles factories take advantage of the most vulnerable, those who don’t speak English, aren’t here legally, or have families to feed back home. These are all true for one Flor Molina, a woman who was smuggled across the border and then locked in a garment factory and forced to work.

In an article from the publication Voice of America, Maurice Middleberg, a human rights advocate and executive director of Free the Slaves, summed up the problem perfectly: “What [Molina’s experience] reminds us is that slavery isn’t something over there. It’s something over here.”

Ethical & Noteworthy 'Made In LA' Brands

Now, take a deep breath, I know that was a lot of deeply upsetting information. Although there is a lot of corruption happening in Los Angeles garment factories, there are still so many brands and small factories fighting hard for ethical production and employee protection.

While big brands like Forever 21, TJ Maxx, and Ross are cutting corners and harming garment workers for a few extra dollars, there are a ton of fashion startups ready to do just the opposite. One of those brands is Back Beat Rags, a small fashion brand founded and owned by Isadora Alvarez. Her cool and casual pieces are all naturally dyed, made with sustainable materials and meticulously crafted in a sweatshop-free environment. Isabella has her hands in every part of the production process and is able to ensure that her clothes are being made ethically.

Other LA-made brands which are taking ethics seriously are Calle Del Mar, Mate the Label, Clare V, and more. Along with businesses, there are factories stepping up too! Los Angeles Apparel, Indie Source, and Nature USA are incubators as well as production houses committed to taking care of their workers, just as much as the clothes. Nature USA is even Fair Trade Certified™!

And then there’s the brands which are all-in-one: companies like Groceries Apparel, Reformation, and Christy Dawn have taken it upon themselves to create the responsible manufacturing space they want to see in the world. Finding pieces that are made ethically in LA is possible—it just takes a bit of research into the conditions and requires a greater awareness of laws and practices in the city.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t necessarily matter where clothing is made, money is the name of the game no matter where you go. What does matter is the commitment you give to ethical practices, the fight for proper labor regulations, researching your favorite brands, and supporting companies striving for full transparency. There’s a lot of work to do, but there’s also a lot to be hopeful about. Looking for some more ideas? Start here.


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Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and has an exciting venture of her own in the works! Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious fashion and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.