The True Cost of your fashion choices

Have you seen the documentary, The True Cost? If not, please do. It’s currently on Netflix (in Australia). It’s about the true cost of fashion - particularly fast fashion – which is not the cost to you as the consumer, but the true cost to people and the planet. I only just watched The True Cost, having put it to the side for a long time because fashion really is very low down on the list of things that interest me. But since clothes are a fact of life, I thought it’s probably useful for me to watch.

Saying that this documentary is impactful is an understatement. I was vaguely aware of all the social and environmental issues of the fashion industry (I have read Peppermint magazine religiously since day 1!) but I wasn’t so aware of their scale. I find it very difficult to rationalise just how many garments are created (and bought and sold and trashed) every day, let alone that the garment workers, who are almost always women in developing countries, are bound to a cruel industry that only reinforces their poverty. Instead of giving these people a chance of having a secure and respectable job with which they can earn a decent living, we give them exorbitant working hours in unsafe buildings, toxic chemicals, and no freedom to demand any different. And for this we give them about $2 a day.

Before the garment workers, there are the farmers who grow the raw materials, such as cotton. To keep up with growing demand, they must grow more, more, more, faster, faster, faster. Enormous amounts of pesticides and other chemicals are sprayed on the crops, often by hand. These chemicals come into direct contact with the people, as well as contaminating water and food sources. Villages in these farming communities are suffering immensely for this, with much higher rates of cancers and debilitating mental- and physical-retardation. Environmentally, this all contributes seriously to pollution (water, land, air), increased runoff, loss of topsoil, and loss of native habitat.

If this is not inhumane, then I don’t know what is.

We can’t call ourselves feminists or environmentalists or social reformers or whatever mover-and-shaker you want to be, and be ok with this.

Part of the problem is that the garment factories are totally at the beck and call of the big fashion multinationals. These companies do not employ the garment workers directly; rather, they select factories as they see fit. For this reason, the garment factory owners are bound to keep costs (and therefore wages) stupidly low, for fear that the multinationals will take their business elsewhere.

I’m not purporting to understand these problems intimately, nor their solutions. A good place to start, though, is to watch The True Cost and then check out magazines like Peppermint and apps like Good On You.

Then support brands that are doing the right thing. This is definitely not my area of expertise but brands that I personally love are People Tree (for every day wear), Patagonia (for all my outdoorsy activities slash also every day wear because I’m a biologist after all!) and Boody (for underwear) - albeit I still have a wardrobe full of brands with who-knows-what ethics, which I (of course) won't simply throw out. I also plan to buy jeans from Outland Denim, when the time comes that I need a new pair. These brands are seriously impressive with their environmental and social impacts, and also are more friendly to my budget than many other eco-minded brands. Beyond that, I look for organic natural fabrics, I shop secondhand, or I don’t shop at all.

If I could have any words of encouragement, not that I believe myself to be so qualified, they would be:

(1)    Avoid fast fashion like the plague.

(2)    Avoid fast trends, for those are sure-fire ways for your clothes to end in the bin.

(3)    Avoid synthetic (plastic) fabrics.

(4)    Shop ethically-minded brands; pay more but buy less.

(5)    Buy stuff that you will use many times over. Not a few times over, but many times (30+).

(6)    Realise that you really don’t need so many clothes.  

Let me know if you have any other tips or knowledge on this super-important topic.