Shopping Without the Guilt: How You Shop Ethically and Affordably in Bushwick

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Throughout the years, reports and journalism have demonstrated the poor working conditions of factories around the world. Just in March, 11 people died in a lingerie factory fire in China, while 15 more were injured. Just this last month, the New York Times reported use of child labor in Samsung’s overseas factories. Even if a company you shop from reports they have ethical standards for their workers overseas, many of them use suppliers whose working conditions include no maternity leave, holiday pay and are often underpaid for overtime work. Although this isn’t something new and not every factory is guilty of these heinous conditions, it still lingers in the back of many shoppers’ minds when we go to buy new outfits. A lot of us would like to put our hard-earned dollar towards organizations we know for certain adhere to the kinds of standards we believe are humane.

Sadly, for many of us here in New York, $$ is always on the mind and this city is hard to hustle in, and things made locally are obviously more expensive. It’s also hard to know just which companies deal exclusively with ethical suppliers. While it feels impossible, buying locally sourced clothing is something you can actually do affordably. In Bushwick there are three main ways to do it: 1) Looking at your cheap stores, like Conway or Rainbow, and checking the tags to see where items are made, 2) Going thrift shopping, or 3) Buying fewer items of higher quality made right here in Brooklyn from local shops.

All of these tops were made in the U.S.A. and cheaper than $25 at Rainbow!

Let’s tackle the first point. As I’ve written about before, I’m like, Rainbow’s #1 fan. Seriously – if I was ever famous, I would never do a Target or H&M collab, I’d be all about that Rainbow. They have track suits, jeggings, and wild prints, which is basically the anthem to my life. Occasionally select items they carry are made in the U.S.A. I found leopard top pictured above on sale for $7. It’s great for the office with a pair of black slacks, or for a dinner date with leggings. So the next time you’re in need of affordable and stylish threads, check out the labels on the clothes in some cheap stores. If you’re having trouble picking between a few items, let where the garment was made be your deciding factor. If ethical trade is deeply important to you, this may not be the best way to go because although the manufacturers may construct the garments here, the fabrics and other materials may be shipped from unknown suppliers. But even so, it’s one step in the right direction.

Our suggestions for cheap stores:

#1 Shoppers World, 399 Knickerbocker Ave

Girl in clothes from Shopper’s World. Photo by Essie Graham.

#2 Rainbow, 1295 Broadway, 416 Knickerbocker Ave

Dress from Rainbow.

The second way, by shopping at thrift stores, is my favorite. Not only are you spending money locally, you’re recycling clothes, which is great for the environment! There are a couple downsides to thrift stores however, the main one being bedbugs. I hate to tell ya this, but you can’t necessarily trust your neighbor not to pawn off infested items. You should always be washing clothes you buy second hand before you wear them. You should also make sure you bring extra large ziplock bags with you when you shop, and put the clothes in them before taking them home. I know this may sound neurotic, but anyone who’s ever had bedbugs will tell you it’s worth it to take preventative measures. It’s also harder to thrift shop because sizes can be tough, but luckily Bushwick, especially Knickerbocker Ave between Flushing and Grattan, is stacked with great second hand stores. There are 3 right within those 2 blocks! I like to call it thrift-store row.

What I like to call Thrift-Store Row: Knickerbocker Ave between Flushing ant Grattan has 3 massive thrift stores.

Our Suggestions for thrift stores:

#1 Urban Jungle, 118 Knickerbocker Ave

#2 Le Point Value Thrift, 1081 Flushing Ave and 96 Knickerbocker Ave

Photo via

#3 Vice Versa, 71 White St

Your last option is to resolve yourself to buying less clothes, but making sure what you buy is high-quality and locally sourced. Spending $70 on one dress instead of on two may seem like a drag, but it’s not if you’re going to wear that dress once a week for the next three years. Case-in-point, I bought the dress pictured below from Better Than Jam in 2010 for $68 for my job, and I still have it. The dress is made by the shop owner herself, Karin Persan. She printed the fabric, and then sewed it. Although the dress is on its last limb, I only spent $17 per year on it, which was well worth it, considering I literally wear it once a week. That’s only .32 cents per wear! There are other fantastic shops in the area too, like Mary Meyer, or the soon-to-be Shwick Market. For someone with an urban flare, check out RDYMKS on Flushing Ave. Their backpacks are around $60, which isn’t bad if you’re going to use it every single day to schlep around the city. This way may require a little bit of saving, but it’ll pay off in the long-run. Just make sure whatever you buy isn’t a frivolous, splurge purpose, and is something you can wear to work or at least once a week.

I bought this dress from Better Than Jam four years ago and still wear it once a week. Well worth the price!

Our Suggestions for local stores:

#1 Better Than Jam, 123 Knickerbocker Ave

#2 RDNMKS, 1095 Flushing Ave

#3 Mary Meyer, 56 Bogart St

At Mary Meyer (photo by Katarina Hybenova for Bushwick Daily)

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