The “Buying Calculus” of a New Work Wardrobe

| May 3, 2019 | BY Seth Lennon

As I am writing this piece, we are approaching my first anniversary with WRAP. This past year has been marvelous and has been even more rewarding than I could ever imagine. Now, usually, for milestones such as these- one regularly pens a “plush-piece” full of superficial platitudes. However, this blog is always the best when it is discussing the personal connection that we have to WRAP and to social compliance as a concept, so that’s the direction we are going to go. (And I promise, there will not be a single mention about hockey-related apparel…maybe)

Let me give you a little background before I continue: before joining WRAP, I worked for a company based out in Virginia that marketed software to associations and non-profits to engage their legislators in the United States Congress. Now, to paint a picture of the culture of a lot of IT firms in the United States, the dress code of some of these firms is a little different than what you may expect. There were many days when even the top execs of the firm would come to work in shorts, a polo shirt…sandals. As I prepared to transition over to my role at WRAP, something occurred to me – I needed attire that was more reflective of a traditional workplace environment. Therefore, it was time to go shopping.

Because now I was working for an organization that certified factories around the world – the calculus by which I was evaluating potential purchases had changed significantly. For me at least, the price was no longer the primary consideration. Having peace of mind was more important than saving a few bucks here and there. Making sure that I was a good actor in the realm of ethical sourcing and social compliance was one way I could do this.

So off I went, updating my wardrobe. I patroned both traditional brick-and-mortar outlets and many upstart online brands (or at least those that sold pink and eggshell blue pants in big-and-tall sizes)

However, as I immersed myself into this process- I realized pretty quickly that there were a few different interpretations of what it meant to purchase goods that were produced ethically. What do I mean by that exactly? Our 12 principles govern WRAP, and represents a mission statement cultivated by the desire to ensure that apparel workers can produce goods in a setting that is safe as well as one that is governed by ethical business practices.

For a lot of entities (and individuals), this concept isn’t where the discussion stops. Many believe that there must be adherence to a specific set of -what some may call tribal- beliefs for an item of apparel to be genuinely “ethical.” Over the last couple of years, the platform of onshoring goods back to the United States has taken flight. Many within my circle will go out of their way to ensure that they purchase goods that are without a doubt “Made in the USA.” For them, this serves as a vehicle to either show their support for American workers and/or demonstrate their belief in a certain political ideology. I certainly don’t judge them one way or another for their “buying calculus,” this is merely a means of stating their values.

However, the hypercharged political environment in the United States has indeed added a new layer to this discussion. During my “great wardrobe expansion,” I most certainly have gained a new appreciation for the fact that clothing not only serves a functional purpose, but it also serves as an expression of our very selves and our identity(political or otherwise).  For me, I like to be sure that I have peace of mind (as much as one can have) that my work attire is produced in a manner that is concurrent with WRAP’s principles.

However, as alluded to earlier, the United States is becoming more polarized than ever before, and now politics come into play for everything- even apparel.

There are now apps/browser extensions available that will, when you enter the online store of a brand, will draw the political contribution data for a particular company. Using this data (which in the United States, is information in the public record), the app/browser extension will necessarily make a value judgment based on which political party the brand gave campaign funds to. There’s no subtlety, either. The particular app/browser extension you are using will voice its approval/disapproval to your choice and do its best to influence your buying choice based on the political beliefs you expressed when you downloaded the program. Several friends of mine use these tools and have, on several occasions, made dramatic alterations to their buying habits because of it.

In closing, apparel has always been a means of expression, not merely an item purchased in a vacuum to serve a unitary purpose. It has gone beyond colors, branding or the words printed on the front or the back- it is now becoming more and more about where those clothes are coming from and the values these items represent. When purchasing my pink work pants or Sesame Street character dress socks, I made sure that I was buying from vendors that did make social compliance a priority because that is what is important to me. However, as we discussed, not everyone shares the same “buying calculus.” However, thanks to the wonders of the internet, there is no shortage of available information and tools now available for those value judgments to be made.


Seth Lennon