Andrew Morgan’s 2015 documentary is an informative and in depth look into the fast fashion industry and the consequences it is having on our planet. Those consequences are scary and the lesson here is that there’s no such things as cheap. It just means somebody else is paying.
Somebody always pays
Budget clothing retailers are a dime a dozen and style changes faster than we can follow. At some point we moved from caring for clothes that would last us for years to thinking of them as literally disposable. In his documentary Morgan looks at how the world of fast fashion was created and how it’s quantity, not quality, that keeps the industry on its feet.
Companies have taught consumers they can get clothes cheaper and cheaper so now they need to sell their clothes by the mountains to see their profit margins rise. Meanwhile they are continually trying to push down manufacturing costs. A tshirt only costs $5 because somewhere a person has been exploited. In Bangladesh, where most manufacturing has been outsourced, people work long days for very little pay in unsafe factories. Local factories are pressured to deliver orders at very low costs in order to keep in business. If they don’t the fashion outlets will simply go elsewhere. Keeping costs down also means cutting corners and letting chemicals used to clean and treat fabric wash into city streets and eventually into water sources.
By buying cheap, fast fashion we buy into this system and we endorse it. Through this we deny dignity to the people who are oppressed by this industry, unable to find decently paid work and prospects. We should reject this model and be willing to pay a bit more for something that has been made in an ethical and sustainable way. Maybe this also means we will be able to buy fewer clothes. But in a world where textile waste is rapidly growing this could only be a good thing.
The number of clothes that are thrown out and given away by wealthy nations is astronomical – far too many to be reused and repurposed as we like to imagine. An average person might buy one piece of clothing a week. That’s 52 in a year. And if your house hasn’t gradually filled up with so much denim that you can only wade to the door then it’s likely you’re getting rid of clothes as quickly as you’re buying them. Clothes may be given to the thrift store, or charity shop where they hang on a rail for 2 weeks. Maybe they’re bought and gain a second life for a time. But many are not and eventually they must go the same way as all of our human waste. Into our land and oceans.
This model is not only destructive to impoverished workers in developing nations, it is destructive to our environment and our planet. And it is destructive to the human mindset that gains no satisfaction or fulfilment from consumerism, only wanting more and more and more.
What can we do
Although The True Cost paints a bleak picture, hope is not lost. Just because your mindful of the process that gets fashion on to the rails it doesn’t mean clothes can’t be your thing. Through rejecting these industry standards we can make it clear that we expect better.
We do this by:
Educating ourselves – Learning about the issues gives us the tools to buy consciously and reject brands with unethical practices.
Speaking out – Telling our favourite retailers to step up and improve their practices is really important. Make sure your voice is heard and tell those around you why they should be talking about this too.
Supporting ethical brands – By boycotting certain brands and supporting others we send a clear message about the kind of products we want to buy. Sometimes money can talk more than a protest or a twitter hashtag.
Buying second hand – Cut down on waste and give an unwanted jumper a second home. If you don’t buy new then you’re not contributing to any of the exploitation, pollution or textile waste. And with what people throw out these days your wardrobe’s hardly likely to suffer.