Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

leonkaye headshot

Good Cloth: Going Beyond Fair Trade in Fashion

Words by Leon Kaye

The textile and garment industries have long left one of the largest footprints on the globe. While more companies have pledged to source more sustainable raw materials and pay “living wages,” some say overall these efforts are a few Band-Aids on what worldwide accounts for a massively gaping wound. One company, Good Cloth, is trying to challenge the fashion industry by working with small artisan producers around the world while still focusing on quality and design.

Based in New Orleans, the company was founded by Stephanie Hepburn, a journalist and writer who has written extensively on human trafficking. The company says each of its collections are produced in small quantities, made with locally-sourced materials, and manufactured in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. The finished products, available for men, women and children, range from the “ethnic look” to what you would find off the rack in a department store. And, considering the costs big-name labels insist we pay for something made by someone making pitiful wages, the prices are overall fair and competitive. Shoppers can also choose their products based on the values most important to them. If searching for a bag, for example, they can choose if they want a U.S.-made, recycled or “Trade not Aid” product.

One of the designers who is showcased on Good Cloth is Patti Dunn, who is also based in New Orleans. Her company, Tchoup Industries, sources local fabrics and finishings, while her firm’s studio in the French Quarter is decorated with art made by the company’s employees. Like other manufacturers who insist on making their goods in the United States, Dunn insists that spending money on locally-made products sends multiple messages: giving others in your community economic opportunity while telling the fashion industry to be more responsible and sustainable. It communicates, Dunn says, that one values the local culture instead of living in a world where everyone dresses the same. The company also has its own blog, which pays it forward by highlighting the work of other Louisiana designers, while also offering advice on how to repair textiles — tips not usually offered by the world’s large labels. Among the Tchoup products available on Good Cloth is a cool flap pack with fasteners that conveniently double as a bottle opener.

Liz Alig is another eco-conscious fashion label available on Good Cloth. Founded by Elizabeth Roney, the Indianapolis fashion studio partners with workshops across the globe, from Guatemala to India to Southeast Asia — as well as locally in Indianapolis. Roney worked in several countries around the world, visited factories and met garment factory workers. Unsatisfied with the ethical clothing designs that she could find, she decided to launch her own label. The materials Roney uses in her clothing are as diverse as the countries from which she sources — handwoven, recycled, and fair trade or organic fabrics end up in her designs. Liz Alig also has a social enterprise side to its mission: A portion of the company’s sales are sent to NGOs that provide skills training to women in developing countries.

Companies such as Good Cloth face huge challenges — especially consumers’ constant demands to have a wardrobe full of cheap clothes that also have the “designer” look. But as more consumers demand transparency and accountability from their labels of choice, watch for firms like this one to thrive — while making a difference many time zones away.

Image credit: Good Cloth

Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye

More stories from Leadership & Transparency