Made in France

Vintage dress, pumps, bag

Because I buy secondhand, I don't usually pay attention to where my clothes come from. I glance at the fabrication tag to make sure the fibers are compostable, but that's about it. It's become such a habit that, when I needed to replace a few things, I bought polypropylene items made in China and Bangladesh without any thought to their sweatshop origins (my neighbor asked, "Est-ce que votre famille à fait ça?" which means "Did one of your relatives make that?"). Shopping is frustrating here- I'm sized differently than willowy French women- so I buckled under the supposed urgency of my situation and settled for items I don't feel good about. I tried to trace the journey of my clothing from factory to closet in the hopes of becoming an educated consumer. Learning the high social and ecological cost of my thrifted wardrobe makes me want to wear and care for these items as long as I can.


Designed by Ivana Omazic for Céline, my winter coat was a runway item likely fabricated at LVMH production facilities in France. The silk lining originated in the Cévennes region and the shell in Pays-de-la-Loire, spun from white, 14-16 micron chin, chest, and throat hair. The density and hard finish indicates the material contains longer fibers rather than shorter, weaker fibers, which produce fluffier yarn and are prone to pilling. LVMH is somewhat transparent about their manufacturing practices (including tax havens and factories in India and Romania), and my trench coat boasts exclusively French provenance, pieced together in Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire valley.


The fabric and lining in my wool dress are fully French, assures Sylvie Zawadski, of the Fédération française de la couture, du prêt-à-porter, des couturiers, et des créateurs de mode. Employees receive minimum 18,400 to 22,000 € per year, which doesn't sound like enough for Paris, but I'm told working for Dior is its own reward. According to an LK Bennett representative, ready-to-wear is produced in a "lovely environment" in the UK. As with the navy dress, the zipper is YKK. The cotton shirtdress hails from Tuscany, where towns like Prato came under fire for employing illegal Chinese immigrants paid less than 3€ an hour.

My linen dress, by Balinese brand Portobello, was handmade by artisans in Ubud. Everything from the flax to dye is cultivated in Bali, and workers are paid a fair wage, accounting for higher prices (like $12 instead of $2). Same goes for Ahimsa, a Bali brand committed to "total non-violence." Vera Wang failed to comment on my secondhand wedding dress, but the beading and stitching indicates hand-sewing.


J. Brand didn't respond to inquiries about where their cotton and elastane is sourced. Their LA factory employs workers primarily from Mexico or El Salvador. Los Angeles is notorious for breached pay and work time regulations, and California's minimum wage is $9 an hour, which will not even cover one meal at In-n-Out. The zipper is YKK. The skirt, silk lining, and zipper were made by artisans in France, possibly at Mont Saint Michel, Allier, or Cholet Sainte-Florence facilities.


Despite Muji's sustainability claims, most of its product manufacturing is done in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. According to Emilie Luc-Duc, Rodier sweaters are manufactured in France or Italy, with raw materials sourced from France, Italy, or Hungary. The Petit Bateau website states their t-shirts are knitted in Troyes or Maghreb.


I have a pair of Nikes, so I knew my shoe collection was an amoral mess. YSL leather is supplied by a manufacturer near Albi. The grey and pink shoes are from Louis Vuitton's workshop in Fiesso d'Artico. Ferragamo shoes are made in Italy by subcontractors such as those in San Maoro Pascoli, Riviera del Brenta, and Fermo/Macerata, some of which import illegal Chinese labor to reduce costs. Geox boots are the product of a largely delocalised and outsourced logistics cycle- manufactured in Romania and Slovakia with phases in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Geox participates in Better Factories Cambodia, but the company gets products from New Star, a Cambodian factory suspected of employing underage workers.


Longchamp was the biggest disappointment, with leather and nylon from Tunisia assembled in China, Morocco, and Mauritius. Dior sunglasses are produced by Safilo, which has three Italian facilities and plants in Slovenia, the US and China. Unlike Dior or Gucci group, which sell gold and diamonds without a policy on responsible sourcing, Cartier claims to source their materials ethically. I can't take seriously any jewelry that isn't Cartier anyway.


I flunked this category, with Uniqlo products manufactured in China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh and Victoria's Secret items from China. VS employs child labor and uses SLS (among other toxic additives) in the manufacturing process. My tights were made in Sumène by artisans who boil silkworms, though immunohistological evidence of dopamine cells in the cephalic nervous system suggests a reflexive reaction to stimuli not necessarily associated with pain. La Perla nightwear is from Portugal. The company sources products from China, Turkey, and Tunisia (near the city of Sfax, where many brands, including Etam and Lejaby, make lingerie and swimwear). Better choices include Fifi Chachnil, Lemahieu, Fleurs Pois & Cie, Broussaud, Crespin and Luxam. Click herehere, and here for ethical sources.

Ninety-five percent of clothing sold in France is foreign made, while the other 5% is primarily luxury brands. Everyone knows fast fashion comes at a price, but for a long time, I thought investing in designer items (which I thrifted for cheaper than Gap, Zara, and H&M) was a quick way to bypass social costs. Even Hermès, with a storied history employing French artisans, outsources production to Madagascar, Mauritius, and Nigeria. Curious about your own closet? Consult La Fabrique Hexagonale, an eye-opening resource on French manufacturing practices. 

Paris to Go


  1. `I too thrift my clothing and try to buy american and european made garments. As you point out, this is not as easy as it seems on the face of it. I have refused to purchase synthetics opting for natural fibers. But I still realize how hard it is to have a "clean" wardrobe.

    1. I'm disappointed in how many synthetics I have. Sometimes my clothes come without fabrication labels and with undergarments I just got lazy. Like you, I'm going to refuse synthetics in the future. The whole manufacturing process is flawed though.