The True Cost

‘The True Cost’. a realistic summary of the consequences of our addiction to fast fashion. The investigation portrayed the exploitation that made me think twice about my next purchase of a £20 pair of jeans.

The documentary film shows who is paying for our bargains. It dives right to the bottom of the supply chain, to the garment factories of Cambodia and Bangladesh and the cotton fields of India.

It begins with the quote, ‘We communicate who we are through clothing.’

It is explained that we are moving to a way of producing that only looks after big business interest. In America, 3% of garments are made there and the rest is outsourced to developing countries around the world. The more that is outsourced, the cheaper it becomes!

Instead of having four seasons a year, it is like retailers have 52 seasons; something new is coming in every week! Fast fashion is a way of shifting more products; however the problems in the supply chain are rarely considered.

The documentary shows the devastating effects of the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building, an eight-story building. More than 1,000 people died and hundreds were injured. What really hit me was the workers had noticed the cracks in the wall and the factory operators ignored instructions to evacuate. This is the price the workers are paying for our cheap garments! Things like this affect the most vulnerable and the worst paid; garment workers are surviving on less than $3 a day, whereas bosses are demanding far higher wages.

A month before this catastrophic event, a factory fire killed over 100 people. The sad thing is, as the death toll rose, profits rose. The year after the disaster, the profits were higher than ever. The industry is now a three trillion dollar industry. The factory owner in Bangladesh tells us that when retailers squeeze him, he must squeeze his employees. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter after China. This is most probably because unions have very limited power here so businesses can push the boundaries further and further, creating even worse conditions.

One more ethical brand that was mentioned was People Tree, a fair trade fashion brand that was started in Japan. Labels usually start with the collection and do not consider who is going to make the garments. People Tree start with the skills, visit their suppliers and build up the brand that way, while ensuring the integrity of the aesthetics. They have built a network, putting social development of their workers and environment issues central to their focus. They also take part in a fair trade movement that occurs in 60 counties around the world. The documentary showed fashion shows for People Tree’s collections and seminars happening in Japan.

India’s cotton fields were next where the cotton seed was being genetically modified; chemicals were added to add a certain bacteria. They show the farmers having to spray the crop with litres of pesticides! The more they use them, the more they need to use them. This often causes the soil to become contaminated and then the farmers get into debt as the seed doesn’t deliver. Businesses do not consider the environmental impact and the effects on the workers and local people; cancer and mental illness have increased and 70-80 children in the village have physical handicaps.

A visit to Haiti showed the millions of tons of our castoff clothing clogging landfills and had destroyed the local clothing industry. This just made to wonder if these people’s lives could get any worse.

The phrase careless production and endless consumption definitely came to mind when watching this. Consumers need to recognise the impact their consumption is having. Admittedly, I did not realise the extent of the damage. Consumers are part of the problem for the decline in the health of our planet. The water usage, land used and amount of chemicals used to dye are not taking into consideration. Yes production produces garments, but it also produces greenhouse gasses and chemicals that are released into the atmosphere.

I liked the quote from Stela McCartney, the ‘… fashion industry just needs to think and challenge.’ False advertising encourages this endless spending; the idea that happiness is based on the amount of ‘stuff’ someone has. If the economy became less materialist, the economy would decline. Consumption is the fuel for the economy; however, this comes at a price.

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year. 15,000 shoppers appear at Macy’s New York. People spend money that they often don’t have, on things they don’t need. I see this same attitude when the Next sales occur. People queue throughout the night and swarm the shop when it opens. Customers just love a bargain!

I don’t think society’s fashion attitude, especially the younger generations, is helped by the rise in the beauty and fashion blogger online. Hauls of shopping trips are constantly being uploaded, persuading viewers to purchase the same items.

Watching this has definitely given me a much better understanding of the impact my spending has on the world, especially the environment and workers at the bottom of the supply chain. I believe that the majority of people are just seeking the lowest price possible, rather than looking at the bigger picture. Although I’m not saying I’m going to stop treating myself to a new item every now and then, I am definitely going to think twice before buying something I don’t really need. I will question whether I really require an item, as well as how it has been sourced. I am for sure going to be on the lookout for some more ethical focused brands.

I would highly recommend giving this a watch on Netflix so you can see the impact first hand. You will have to let me know how you felt when watching this.


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