“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.”
Two months ago I hadn’t heard of The True Cost, but I had just read Overdressed and I mentioned it on Instagram. One of the comments was suggesting I watch The True Cost, a documentary currently streaming on Netflix.
Overdressed had already made such an impact on me; I’d been obsessing about it since I’d put it down. As I said in my blog post about it, I’m not really someone that subscribes to fashion trends, but I’ve certainly supported fast fashion retailers, particularly before I could sew.
Not our usual Friday night viewing, but Andy and I watched The True Cost together and had the same reaction: it was a heart-breaking, harrowing watch and we immediately started discussing alternatives to fast fashion. It’s a conversation we’ve been having for weeks now, and will continue to have because we can’t go back to supporting companies with unethical and environmentally-damaging practices. We don’t want to be part of this problem.
This documentary brought up so many interesting issues that I’m going to tackle it in a few blog posts.
Within two decades, the amount of clothing consumed worldwide has gone up by 400%. To put a figure on that, that’s 800 billion pieces of new clothing. 800 billion. Per year. To me, that is consumerism gone crazy. It’s not like we’re wearing all of these clothes, or even hoarding them. On the contrary, a large percentage of our clothing ends up as toxic waste because we’re chucking it out as fast as we’re buying it. Many charity shops are groaning under the weight of unwanted clothing because, for most of us, it makes us feel better to donate rather than throw away. This doesn’t make the problem go away though, as we’re straight down to the High Street to replace what we’ve just dumped.
Fast fashion really has changed the retail landscape and I would argue that it’s not for the better. In the UK, retailers such as H&M, Topshop, River Island and Zara have a constant flurry of new garments to keep shoppers interested. People no longer shop by the season, they shop more regularly and buy more as a result. I can attest to this; as I’ve said before I had a period in my twenties of shopping most weekends for something new to wear to go out.
The price of clothing makes this easy for us too. Go to any of these retailers, their competitors, or even any large supermarket chain, and you’ll find plenty of clothing to suit whatever your budget. Trust me, I get having to shop within a budget. When my daughters were tiny we really struggled financially, so I understand having to put the needs of your family first. It is not my intention to demonise anyone buying fast fashion, but I do wonder if I was more aware back then if I’d still have shopped in the same way.
The Human Cost
85% of garment workers globally are women and they are some of the lowest paid people in the world, without any of the rights and protections that you or I would have in the Western World. This makes this not only a human rights issue, but also a feminist issue. A stand out part of The True Cost for me, was watching the heartbreaking moment that Shima Akhter has to leave her daughter to be cared for by her own parents.
We follow Shima throughout the documentary; she has worked at factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, since she was 12 moving away from the village she was brought up in to do so. She makes the decision to take her daughter out of Dhaka because she has no childcare and needs to work and doesn’t want the same life for her child. As a mother this breaks my heart and also makes me realise my privilege. I gave up work to take care of my children and my only sacrifice was giving up material items and holidays. I can’t imagine giving up my children because I have no other options.
Another side to Shima’s story is that she has started a union for the garment workers in her factory. Good for her I thought! Then we find out that once the workers submitted their list of requests to their employer they were locked in the factory and beaten. What kind of world are we bloody living in when we are turning a blind eye to this kind of treatment towards human beings just so we can be sold cheap t-shirts? It blows my mind. We are so disconnected to those who sew our clothes, that most of us have no clue this is happening, even with the Rana Plaza factory collapse. Of course, brands don’t want us to know about people like Shima. They don’t want us to associate people with production. It suits the profits of these fashion behemoths that we are totally divorced from how our clothes come to be. This is not right and things need to change.
Change needs to start with education. Watching this documentary is a good start in educating yourself about the realities of the clothes on our backs. Find out what the brands you love are doing, Fashion Revolution suggest asking #whomademyclothes? It’s also not to late to sign up to Fashion Revolution’s course.
I will be writing more about this documentary because there’s so much to say! I want to tell you all about the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry and about textile production too. Textile production, as a sewist, is of massive interest to me and something I’ve long been thinking about. I hope that you’ll stick around for those posts 🙂
In short, The True Cost is a game-changer. I urge you to go and watch it.
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