In this guest post, ethical fashion enthusiast Elizabeth Langefeld shares about the challenges she has faced finding ethically made workwear and recommends 12 sources for polished, office-ready looks!
The great thing about being in a book club is reading books I never would have found otherwise. Even if the book isn’t memorable, the discussion is.
Three years ago at one such meeting, Laura brought up that she had looked at the Slavery Footprint website and was changing the way she was shopping. I had long been trying to purchase items made in the USA to support families in our country, and I was concerned about the origin of my clothes made elsewhere but unsure of how to combat the issue. How could I reconcile the values I hold as a Christian with the often abusive practices of manufacturing? It felt overwhelming, but worthwhile, to find garments where I could trust that those in the production line had been paid fairly and were working in safe conditions.
Laura pointed me to a few sources, which helped me find more sources, and now I can’t imagine ever going back to my “old way” of shopping. I actually feel better when I’m in clothing from companies that pay workers a living wage. I’ve found that while the price point is a little higher, I’m buying items I love and am therefore buying less overall. My clothing budget hasn’t really changed, thankfully!
I’ve been very fortunate to not find it difficult to source items I like that are ethically made. Unfortunately, though, selection seems to be limited in the workwear category. While we are in an increasingly casual society, many of us do still need to look nice at work! On a given day in higher education, I may meet with a dean, attend a conference, or network with alumni. I don’t work in an office that expects suits (thankfully!), but for every “casual Friday,” I’ve got plenty of days to look nice.
I understand why ethical clothing companies start with basics and accessories that can be easily sewn or trendy items with wider appeal. Some even go for a more high-fashion look of interesting drapes or cutouts that make the clothing impractical for the office. With a much smaller production scale than many traditional brands, these companies have small profit margins and even less room for error. I’d encourage them to reconsider workwear, though! I’m willing to spend more on quality items I know I will need on a regular basis and won’t go out of style too quickly! If you’re also in this conundrum, here are my recommendations:
1. Mata Traders – This brand has been excellent for dresses and skirts for me. They also offer a wide variety of jewelry at an approachable price. Those in the Chicago area can check out their flagship store and occasional warehouse sales. If you’re local to the Raleigh-Durham area, some of the knit dresses are available at One World Market. I’ve found them online at Remedy Road, which has a store in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as Fair Trade Winds, which has locations in five states. The jewelry is available online and in the Raleigh store of The Flourish Market.
2. Elegantees – The dresses and blouses from Elegantees are pretty affordable for those trying out ethical shopping for the first time. The fabric cuts are generous and the styles classic. You can find also find them at The Flourish Market and Bought Beautifully.
3. Fair Indigo – One of the few places I can find slacks! Pima cotton on blazers, dresses, skirts, and pants are timeless classics.
4. Mikarose – This brand advertises itself as modest wear, which actually makes it perfect for the office. Modest doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful or flattering. Blouses with cute pencil skirts are such a polished look! I was introduced to this made in the USA brand via The Flourish Market. If you’re out in Utah, you can visit their store near Provo.
5. The Root Collective – I wear their Espe boots and Gaby flats to work all the time. The rubber-soled flats are especially good for jetting across campus to meetings. Don’t be scared off by lack of half sizes. I’ve found that sizing down for fabric shoes and sizing up for leather shoes has worked well on my own half-sized feet!
6. Nisolo – One of the few ethical shoe brands with a heel! Classic, classic, classic! I’ve also got my eye on their bags for the next time I need a handbag or work tote.
7. Maven Women – Beautiful, classy dresses that are a little aspirational for me, so I’ll be saving up for one. They’d be perfect for me for Admissions and Alumni events. They tend to run pre-order sales on new styles, so it’s worthwhile to join the mailing list.
8. Victoria Road – Another one for the aspirational list. These dresses are GORGEOUS, and I’ve managed to afford one beautiful top on sale!
9. Starfish Project – Jewelry could be a great place to start if you’re unsure of fit or have specific needs in clothing for the workplace. This line of jewelry will go with almost any outfit.
10. Swedish Stockings – I actually like wearing tights and don’t mind hose when needed. Swedish Stockings has a wide variety and a great recycling program.
11. Poshmark & consignment- I have been able to fill in items I can’t find yet in the ethical realm (for me, petite sizing) by purchasing gently-used items on Poshmark. I’ve also been able to sell items my family no longer needs. Almost any brand can be available to you without the concern that you’re contributing directly to manufacturing practices you don’t love. One word of caution, though, is that a growing number of sellers here and on other platforms are selling non-branded wholesale items. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing the origin of these items. If you have this concern, I recommend searching the “closets” instead of “boutiques” and looking for sellers that have a wide variety of items rather than a large number of the same item in various sizes. There are even a number of sustainable brands sold on Poshmark, making many of them even more attainable price-wise! If you’re more of a try-it-on type, then find a local consignment shop. My favorite in the Raleigh-Durham area is The Stock Exchange.
12. Nordstrom – Yep, a department store made my list! They carry Karen Kane, Eileen Fisher, and Everly, all great brands! Their website makes it easy to search for items made in the USA as well. If you love shopping sales, this could be the route for you!
Now that I’ve found these great options, I’ve begun purchasing them as replacements are needed, caring for my clothes the best I can, and wearing them as long as I can.
What are some of your favorite choices for workwear? Share with me in the comments. I’d love to hear of any great brands I’ve missed!
About the Author
Elizabeth Langefeld is a student affairs practitioner and fellow “Blubber” of Laura’s (aka, “book clubber” for the uninitiated). When not helping students survive graduate school, she can be found planning her next travel destination, cheering on the Clemson Tigers, cooking her way through the Skinnytaste cookbooks, or discussing figure skating in greater detail than anyone from the ice-free state of South Carolina should. She and her husband Marc live in Raleigh, NC.