"The True Cost": A Review
Shopping: It’s a part of our daily experience. From every cup of coffee to every trip to the grocery store, to every wardrobe update, shopping is a part of our daily experience. So much so, that it has become a natural, instinctive part of our existence that every credit card swipe comes as natural to us as breathing.
But to feed our convenience and pattern of life comes a cost, and the cost is more than the number at the end of our receipts.
Paying particular attention to the fashion industry, the minds behind the documentary, The True Cost shed light on the dark reality behind our everyday ease. The documentary follows the realities of what is termed as “fast fashion”, referring to the disposable approach to clothing that has evolved.
The cost of our lifestyle is the exploitation of modern-day slaves and furthering the decay of our world’s natural resources. Our purchases are killing both.
The documentary reveals that today, only 3% of our clothing is made in the United States, the rest is outsourced to third world countries to accommodate the desire for cheap clothing. To keep prices low for the consumer, corporations put an inhumane demand on factories resulting in a lack of worker’s protections, toxic work conditions, and a thriving sweatshop network that has resurfaced from the Industrial Revolution with even greater intensity. This multi-trillion-dollar industry thrives off the consistency of consumers that continue to feed the demand. This demand continues to push the compensation for workers down to keep the prices more pleasant for the consumers and a growing economy for the benefiting corporations. Many businesses in the fashion industry are being built on the backs of modern day slaves, and consumers unknowingly keep supporting it.
"Only 3% of our clothing is made in the United States, the rest is outsourced to third world countries to accommodate the desire for cheap clothing."
The True Cost also reveals that the cost is two-fold. The toll that this fast fashion has on the climate has immediate consequences. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world as we see through testimonies from Bangladesh, India, and Texas alike. From filling the landfills with waste, polluting waters surrounding communities, to the pesticides used on cotton crops, the world is groaning under the demands of the fast fashion movement. A cotton farmer, Larhea Pepper, voiced how “We haven’t really factored in what the true cost is” when it comes to our purchases and choices. The true cost is more uncomfortable and chilling than we care to admit. The true cost is exploitation of fellow people and our resources.
"The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world as we see through testimonies from Bangladesh, India, and Texas alike."
The documentary does not end without a hint of hope. Organizations like People Tree founded by Safia Minney are working to treat people like people and reinvent the fashion industry to be a place of empowerment. Being on the forefront of the fair trade movement, people like Minney are recognizing that shopping this way “is a citizen’s response to correcting the social injustice in our international trading system that is largely dysfunctional.”
Advocates, we face a cyclical problem. If we continue to feed into the fast fashion industry while simultaneously raising funds for relief, we are harming our own efforts and crippling the work that Dressember stands for. We cannot both speak of change and continue purchasing from corporations that exploit and take. This process takes work, it’s hard, and frankly, it’s a lot more expensive than we are used to. It takes researching and behavior change. It brings about funny looks and careful reevaluation of our habits and what our purchases say about us. But this extra work, this extra effort, this extra involvement is worth it for the end result of workers being paid adequately everywhere. It starts with us and how we choose to spend our money.
"We cannot both speak of change and continue purchasing from corporations that exploit and take."
While these dark realities may hang heavy on our hearts, there is power in our knowledge. Our awareness can spur change. In fact, awareness is already spurring change. Our conviction is not in solidarity, and other businesses are moving forward on revolutionizing the standard. Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s Vice President of Environmental Affairs, is one of these voices. Advocating for those exploited by every fiber of every product, Patagonia is one of the leaders in a new wave of fashion. Safia Minney of People Tree feels the same conviction, and is pioneering the field of fair trade and creating a personal interaction from when a product is made to when it reaches the hands of the customer. Our knowledge does not result in despair but results in revolution.
For more information, visit their website for tips on how to shop more responsibly and how to be a part of positive change. We recommend also checking out their guide to Buying Better for those looking for a good place to start in shopping ethically.
Watch the documentary:
About the Author
Sara Kernan is a proud Alaskan that now calls Southern California home (while trying not to melt in the summer). She is finishing her undergrad program this year and looks forward to this opportunity with Dressember to be an advocate of social justice on a different level. Sara can usually be found either drinking coffee or finding a new hiking trail with her husband and going on new adventures.