Approximately 97 percent of the clothing and shoes sold in the United States are imported by foreign companies. Unfortunately, many of these products are made by people in sweatshops, where severely underpaid workers spend their days performing backbreaking labor, struggling to survive.
Today, the latest fashion trends are shared countless times on social media and sported by celebrities like Rihanna, Cardi B and the Kardashians and we're all a little guilty of trying to "keep up with the Joneses." Fashion has become widespread and easy to access that we no longer have to purchase dozens of magazines to stay on top of the newest trends. People realize now that they can be trendy on their own. And, with shopping at our fingertips, it is easier than ever adopt a trend and make a purchase within minutes.
With the advancement of technology and the gift of high-speed internet, we are able to shop from the comfort of our homes. But do we stop to ask ourselves what is the impact our purchases have on others? How much do you really know about those $10 shoes you just snagged online? Who was the person who made them? How much training have they had? How much did they get paid? Are they even old enough to work? As consumers we often don't consider these things; we make cheap, quick purchases without thinking.
Today, around 97 percent of the clothing and shoes being sold in the United States are imported by foreign companies. Unfortunately though, many of those products are being made by people in sweatshops, where severely underpaid workers spend their days performing backbreaking labor, struggling to survive. In many of these foreign countries, adults and children are forced to work in terrible and unsafe conditions – nonstop, for countless hours a day. To help combat this problem, many companies are now giving to their surrounding communities or those that are struggling with the consequences of this high demand for cheap and fashionable clothing and shoes.
So, if you are like us and want to support companies that pride themselves in caring about the world around them and the people in it, while being sustainable, then here are a few that give with every purchase.
Based in California, Toms is a shoe company that was founded in 2006 by entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, who had visited Argentina in 2002 while competing on The Amazing Race. When he returned to the country on vacation in 2006, he met a woman who was volunteering to deliver shoes in the area. Mycoskie offered to help her, which gave him insight on the distribution process in Argentina. During this time, he also noticed that there were many shoeless kids running around the city. This is what initially sparked the idea for the charitable brand we now know as Toms.
The business was formed on a one-for-one model – with every pair of shoes purchased, another one gets donated to a kid in need. Usually they end up going to poorer, developing countries like Argentina and Guatemala. Now, the company has evolved their model – along with donating shoes to kids in need, they give back by aiding grants on important issues such as: ending gun violence, funding eye restoration centers in rural communities and helping to implement safer water systems.
SoleRebels is a company founded in 2004 by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu in her home country of Ethiopia. The company was formed on the idea that the creation of shoes should give hope and inspiration to everyone. Alemu wanted to create a company that would provide well-paying jobs to a community that was ultimately suffering from a lack of proper employment and underutilization of its local resources.
Being the first shoe company to have ever been certified by the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization), SoleRebels have long prided themselves on hiring the “unemployable” and taking advantage of their creativity to redefine the standard of footwear in Ethiopia.
Building on the cornerstone that shoes should be made with care and quality materials, while ensuring that the lives of their employees are also taken into account, you can rest easy knowing that when making a purchase with SoleRebels, you are helping to sustain a company that not only cares about its product, but also the people who make them. They adhere to working standards found in countries like America and also offer free shipping to the US.
COMUNITYmade is also based in California. COMUNITYmade specializes in making premium and custom shoes entirely by hand. The company was founded in 2017 by Sean and Shannon Scott, a married couple, both with extensive footwear knowledge, and expertise, earned from many years at major shoe brands. They believe the art of shoemaking should be preserved, hiring local shoemakers who have perfected the art of making shoes by hand, using only the highest quality materials available.
The Scotts founded their company with their community and others in mind; none of their work is outsourced, which reinforces their local economy while making a name for COMUNITYmade as a charitable company. With every purchase of their beautifully handcrafted shoes, a donation of up to 20 percent of the cost goes to the charity of your choice.
When making a purchase with COMUNITYmade – whether you are going custom or selecting from their pre-designed options – your money is going to a good place. One unique thing about giving back with COMUNITYmade is that you are able to choose the charity you would like to support. By making a purchase, you can help support causes like the arts, education or homelessness.
One day, I hope that we can all avoid making purchases that promote the harsh working conditions in which the majority of our clothes and shoes are being made; however, until the industry is completely revolutionized, we can only try to minimize our footprint by being more conscientious of the choices we make. Next time, I hope you choose to spend your hard-earned dollars on a company that gives back, truly cares about the quality of its products and provides a workplace that is fair and safe for its employees.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Americans throw away at least 300 million pairs of shoes each year. These shoes end up in landfills, where they can take up to 30 to 40 years to decompose. If the environment matters to you, so should clothing and accessories that last.