Have you seen the True Cost documentary on Netflix? Spoiler alert: it’s an inconvenient truth about the fashion industry that’s too big to ignore. See four ways to make a positive impact and ask the questions that spark change.
I watched it while my husband and I were living in Slovakia this past winter, mostly because we had one English-speaking TV channel at the time and I was browsing Netflix so I could hear someone speak English that wasn’t shouting through the TV about the presidential election. I hadn’t heard of True Cost, but the topic (fashion and human-rights causes) intrigued me. Normally, I run mindless movies in the background while I work away on the computer, but True Cost earned my undivided attention. Sorry work, you’ll have to wait.
While it’s a lot sexier to follow fashion on the runway, True Cost follows fast fashion back to the source (from the seamstress in the factory to the farmer in the field). And you won’t like what they discover. But deep down, you knew it all along. Our clothes are cheaper than ever, and the director asks the question,
who pays the price?
This documentary goes way beyond clothing. It’s about conscious consumerism. It encourages you to ask questions. A great place to start is the food industry. The old adage “an apple a day…” begs the question, how do I eat an apple a day when my tree only produces one time a year? If it’s May and I live in Minnesota, where did these juicy, flawless apples come from? Why can I see my reflection in the sheen on the apple skin? Once you seek out to actively be a conscious consumer, there’s no end to the questions you’ll ask. While the answer is usually an inconvenient truth, awareness is the only way to spark positive change.
The most impactful part of the movie for me was seeing children in third world countries working in unsafe conditions for long hours and little pay, while American teen girls (I’ll call them teeny-boppers and sound my age) had clothes spilling out of bags. The teen Youtube stars bragged to their friends and fans about their recent deals from the mall (deals made possible by the disadvantaged).
Then there’s the environmental impact of our fashion choices. It’s painful to see the land polluted with chemicals to grow clothing materials, and then it coming full circle back to the land as our clothes return to the landfill.
Watching the movie, it’s easy to feel guilty for our lifestyle choices and purchase decisions. The director, Andrew Morgan, doesn’t judge and tells American consumers he’s not shaming them. His goal is to spread awareness, so we get motivated and change! Even in a negative situation, I love looking for the positive spin on it. This leads me to ask the question,
what can we do?
- Ask Questions
What brands do you buy most? Reach out to your favorites and ask, #whomademyclothes?
Social awareness site Fashion Revolution poses the question “who grew the cotton, spun the threads, dyed the fabric and who sewed them together”?
Contrary to what many believe, you can cause change. Every time mass retail outlets like Wal-Mart remove an artificial product from their shelf and make room for another organic brand, it shows our actions make a difference. Big business will change if we band together and demand it.
We vote with our dollars.
- Buy Quality
When you make purchases from malls and boutiques, buy quality. If an item is cheaply made and wears out after a few uses, its mostly likely unable to be donated and will end up in the landfill. Buy pieces that will not only last your lifetime, but will last your children’s lifetime!
True Cost director Andrew Morgan was quoted in the Spring 2016 Fair World Project newsletter as saying in an interview, “…historically, (clothing was) something we held onto our whole lives and even passed on to our children. It was something we valued.”
And 40 years later! Good fashion never goes out of style.
My favorite clothes are hand-me-downs from my mom and grandma, and clothes with a story. See my post Vintage Dress: Strawberry Fields (and dresses) Forever in my ma’s dress, and any number of posts from Native Gypsies Makie rocking clothes from her mother. Buy clothes with a story, which comes from buying from an artisan, buying clothes with history or buying fair trade.
- Second-(and third) Hand
Give clothes new life. The majority of my closet was once loved by another, and probably by multiple lovers;) We’re talking third and fourth hand clothes! You can buy unique vintage fashions as well as affordable high quality apparel at a fraction of the price when you shop far, far ‘off 5th’. My most recent finds were shopping at my town’s playhouse costume sale. I bought several well-made dresses at $2 a piece, and our shopping day provided an hour’s worth of excitement and giggles for my sister, niece and I. I’ll be sure to Instagram pics of my treasures.
- Buy Fair Trade Clothing
Buy from companies who put a face to who made your product, and buy clothes with a story.
All of the well-known Fair Trade brands that came to mind (PACT, Prana, Patagonia) were on this list from The Good Trade, and I’ll add Maggie’s Organics to the list. Read about Maggie’s definition of real fair trade, to learn about how fair trade brands offer fair prices, living wages and community benefits. They are made with love by someone with a story. When you’re far removed from the harsh reality of something, it’s easier to tune it out. But when it’s personal, or when you see someone’s face or hear their story, it becomes real. True Cost wants to give the ugly truth behind the fast fashion industry a voice. A story.
And everyone, everyone, deserves to be heard.