This is a story about clothing. It’s about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?
The True Cost is a fashion documentary like no other. It premiered on on the 15th of May this year at the Cannes Film Festival, and was shown at the 7th Annual ICTU Global Solidarity School. It’s available on Netflix and iTunes. The film aims to shed light on the more destructive side of the fashion industry for the billions of consumers who support it each and every day.
You may never be able to shop the same way again, and that’s not a bad thing.
Of the 40 million garment factory workers in the world, most make less than $3 a day. Multinational companies like Walmart or Primark outsource textile production to poorer countries to guarantee a cheaper price tags for consumers. But in order to keep these clothes prices low, decent wages aren’t the only thing factory owners sacrifice in aid of earning one of these manufacturing contracts. Garment workers often are made work long hours, at short notice, in incredibly unsafe working conditions. This along with the huge environmental cost, as well as the risks to communities, near the production sites of leather and fabric dye should force you to ask “Is this T-shirt worth it?”.
The film can often seem a bit clumsy and when it follows the trail of fashion back to the United States, where issues of consumerism, fast fashion as well as recycling vs. donation are discussed, it can be very jarring. Occasionally you do get the sense that the actually garment workers are being used as props, where their lived experiences are being used to back up or add dramatic flair to the points being raised by the first world speakers. There is an irony there, considering the subject is one of exploitation. Overall the film isn’t bad and it does raise some interesting points, if a little confused and white saviour-y.
As expected the film ends on a note that each action can have a positive impact and there are a couple of very easy steps that anyone can take. It may seem naive and some suggestions are overly simplistic but for the uninitiated it’s an approachable way to start asking the right questions.
Step 1 – Simple, shop more ethically. Buy from suppliers you know ensure their manufacturers pay a fair and decent wage, as well as trying to reduce their carbon footprint.
While not all of the sites below are practical options for an Irish consumer it’s refreshing to see so many options available: Zady, People Tree, Eileen Fisher, Moxie Jean, Patagonia, Nisolo, Stella McCartney, Everlane, Oliberte, Apolis, Modavanti, Krochet Kids, Sseko, Sword and Plough, Red Earth, Popinjay, Reformation, Maiyet, Pamela Love (Jewellery), Cuyana, Clare V (Bags and Accessories), Raven + Lily, Master and Muse, Indigenous, Shop Ethica and Fashion Project.
Step 2 – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We used to have a 2 season fashion cycle but in recent years is can seem every week is a new one. Ask yourself before you buy “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”. The disposable attitude to fashion is what leads to the need to keep prices low, which as we have seen has a direct knock on effect to the workers producing them.
Once an piece of clothing has run its fashion life time, upcycling is a great option to reinvigorate it. There are countless sites online with walk-throughs and ideas, you don’t even need to know how to sew for many of them. Or you could go old school and rag old clothes for wash/dish cloths. Do you really need a specially manufactured j-cloth for wiping up spilled tea? It has been show there is no difference in the susceptibility to bacteria between a j cloth or your old fashion cotton dish cloth. Plus a cotton dish cloth is environmentally friendly, biodegradable and will last longer.
Step 3 – Get Active!
Sign up for information and updates from Fashion Revolution, who hold an event on the 24th of April in remembrance of those killed and injured in the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Dhaka, Bangladesh as well as clothes swaps, talks and more.
Clean Clothes Campaign Ireland is a coalition of a few different trade unions and NGO’s that are campaigning for a living wage for garment workers. On their site you can sign up to the campaign and sign a petition.
War on Want have a campaign running called No More Fashion Victims. It is a UK based campaign.
The ILO have a great site called Better Work that is jam packed with information on what trade unions and other organisations are doing internationally to aid workers fighting for living wages and better conditions in highly exploitative industries. Its a great way to stay informed.