Consumers have grown accustomed to cheaply made, disposable clothes — flimsy dresses and tee shirts that are bought for a pittance and last a season. But, critics say such “fast fashion” can come at a cost. Inexpensive products don’t last and are soon thrown away, but that’s only the tip of the landfill mountain. That cheap clothing often is made in overseas factories by underpaid, overworked and under-aged workers, toiling in tragic conditions. A new documentary, The True Cost, illustrates the tolls taken on people and the planet due to the overwhelming prevalence of fast fashion.
Still, there is a small counter trend. Some companies have “reshored,” moving manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. And there are companies that pride themselves on being part of the “sustainability movement;” some of them have committed to producing higher quality products, even putting a lifetime guarantee behind their claims. All of this comes with a price, of course; the products tend to be far more expensive. The policies vary from brand to brand, but they usually cover defects in materials and workmanship–so if a rivet falls off a bag, it will be repaired or replaced. What they usually don’t cover is general wear and tear, accidents such as spills, loss of the item, or a change in the wearer’s size.
Some established brands like Jansport are well known for having offered guarantees, but you might not be aware of the other brands who offer similar guarantees. Here are six such brands — four of them make their products in the U.S.A. and two are based in that onetime hub of American manufacturing, Detroit.
Aviator | All Products
Doing business since: June 2013
Products made in: Los Angeles
Shown here: High Performance Hoodie, $79
Aviator is a small company of four people (and independent contractors) that sells its items without a middleman, by preorder or via a Kickstarter campaign. Currently getting the Kickstarter treatment is their High Performance Hoodie, which has moisture-wicking and antimicrobial properties, as well has as an oversized hood and built-in mitten cuffs the wearer can retreat into while traveling.
Aviator’s products are made in house in L.A. and come with a lifetime guarantee. “Since we sell direct to the customer, I’m always talking with them, which is an amazing experience,” said Colby Kane, the brand’s founder and designer. “If someone contacts me and says they have a problem with their Aviator clothing, I always fix it or replace it. Fortunately, it rarely happens.” Kane hopes to grow Aviator with an investment so they can scale to a point of always having inventory.
Saddleback Leather Co. | All Products
Doing business since: 1999
Products made in: Leon, Mexico
Shown here: Leather Tote, $389 to $528
Saddleback Leather Co.’s motto is “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.” OK–their guarantee is really for 100 years, which is effectively a lifetime guarantee for most lifetimes. That covers defects in materials and workmanship occurring with normal use, not user abuse, chemical corrosion, paint spills, or other such damages.That extends to all the products Saddleback makes, including briefcases, belts, wallets, bags, luggage, tablet and phone sleeves, and more.
Husband and wife owners Dave and Suzette Munson say they offer their employees in Leon, Mexico (an area known for leather workers), the option to take classes and speak to a spiritual counselor. Beginning in the fall they will offer day care and private school for employees’ children, and they are also moving some of the manufacturing to Fort Worth, Texas. Suzette also started a women’s leather goods and accessory company called Love 41, with all profits going to educating and feeding people in Rwanda through their partners at Africa New Life Ministries. Love 41 bags, made in the same factory, carry a 41 year warranty.
Darn Tough Socks | All Products
Doing business since: 2005
Products made in: Northfield, Vermont
Shown here: Fred Tuttle Micro Crew Cushion, $19
Three generations of Cabots have made their living in the hosiery business, with Cabot Hosiery Mills established 1978, but Darn Tough was launched about ten years ago to save the company when the competition began outsourcing. Darn Tough makes premium socks for men, women and kids geared for outdoor activities like hiking, running, biking, skiing, and hunting, as well as the gym, work and lifestyle.
The model shown here, sold in the work-wear category, is merino wool with nylon and Lycra Spandex; they’re anti-microbial so they can be worn more than once without washing. Darn Tough offers a no-questions-asked guarantee, but their website copy makes it sound like their customers will likely not need it, saying they will replace your socks “If you were able to wear out a pair.” A sign in the Cabot Hosiery Mill says “Nobody ever outsourced anything for quality.”
Shinola | All Watches
Doing business since: 2011
Products made in: Detroit
Shown here: Runwell 47mm, $550
The original shoe polish company Shinola began in 1907, and the modern incarnation selling watches, bikes, leather goods, and shoe polish has a definite vintage feel. Shinola’s guarantee page states, “Our belief is that products should be built to last, and should be built right here in America,” and to that end, the company chose a location with a history of manufacturing to help create a future where America is manufacturing again.
As of March of 2014, all Shinola watches are guaranteed for life under their warranty in cases of defects, and excluding the battery, strap and buckle. There is a $25 service and handling fee for warranty and repair services, which is subject to change. The Runwell 47mm pictured here is currently sold out.
Bogs Footwear | All Products
Doing business since: 2002
Products made in: overseas
Shown here: Alexandria Tall Boot, $190
The history page for the Portland, Oregon- based waterproof outdoor shoe company Bogs says, “We’re so confident in our shoes that we have a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee, ensuring every pair of Bogs meets our customers’ highest of standards.” All they ask is to contact them with replacement style, size, shipping address and photo–unless it was sold as a closeout, and then they will offer an exchange.
Bogs doesn’t specify where their products are made, but maintains a page on their site outlining their standards for their supply chain, regarding child labor, working hours, wages and benefits, health and safety, and environmental practices. The winter boot shown here is constructed mostly of waterproof leather with slip-resistant soles.
The American Mountain Company
Doing business since: 2013
Products made in: U.S.A.
Shown here: No. 503 Gentlemen’s Lightweight Moisture Wicking Sweater, $139
This Detroit-based company sells a small line of men’s mountain wear that’s made in the USA, and each piece is hand-signed as a mark of approval. Their manufacturing page says, “Americans used to make things and it is about time we do again.”
The base layer shown here is made with moisture-wicking Polartec Power Dry textile from Lawrence, Mass. All products are guaranteed against faults in materials or craftsmanship for as long as you own it.