If there's fair trade in coffee, why can't there be fair trade in fashion? Did you know that the fashion industry only ranks behind oil production as the most polluting industry in the world?
This weekend, I finally watched The True Cost on Netflix, a documentary by filmmaker Andrew Morgan as he tries to expose the impact of the global clothing industry on people and the planet. This film has made its rounds since it debuted in May last year. While the movie has garnered strong responses from consumers and brands alike, this is a problem that deserves continued attention and thoughtfulness at the individual consumer level, aka me. The only reason why this industry even exists is because of you and me; as such, I feel like there’s a role that we can play to become more aware of where our clothes come from; and as a fashion and lifestyle blogger, I bear an even greater responsibility to play a role - at least to inform.
Fast fashion - led by giants like H&M and Zara, have transformed this industry as we know it. The twice-yearly debut of the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter collections (ones that I still attend) are really just for show, and some designers have already expressed their concerns over it (read my interview with French designer Pascal Millet). Forget two seasons or four for that matter; the fast-fashion giants are now pushing out weekly seasons - that’s 52 seasons in a year and an insane amount of new clothes – at rock-bottom prices. When people are buying new clothes, they eventually have to get rid of old ones. Have you ever thought about where they all end up? I thought by donating them to my local shelter or boys and girls clubs that they’re benefitting someone. Not so, as filmmaker Andrew Morgan discovered. Hundred of thousand tons of clothes end up in landfills all over the planet where they will sit there for the next two hundred years; chemicals leeching out into the soil and local water systems.
And what about those rock bottom prices? The $15 top was designed, raw materials sourced, cloth manufactured, product sewn together, marketed and shipped to the consumer. So you can see there are many people going after that $15, and what’s left isn’t much that goes back to the factory garment worker. Often working in dangerous conditions (recall the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh), having to leave their children in the care of families due to long hours and being paid $2 a day, these people are not allowed to live a dignified life. One of the workers in the film – through tears – said that she feels the clothes they make come from their blood. While a horrifying thought, she’s not that far from the truth. As I was watching the film – I realized I never cared to wonder where my clothes came from. I never really thought about who cut the fabric, sewed it together, steamed and folded it so that it would look beautiful when it arrived in the store. Sometimes I’d see a sticker with a number on the inside content tag and remembered a friend telling me it corresponded to a particular person. A number. I remember how being assigned a ‘student number’ in university and an ‘employee number’ felt.
So what do we do about it? The answers aren’t so simple – you can’t just boycott or shut down these companies because many low income families rely on them. To begin with, I already feel that I’ve taken a major step by being more informed and mindful of waste. Every time we buy something new, we’re actually contributing to waste; something will eventually have to go from our closet in order to make room for the new stuff. Therefore, if I do need to purchase something, I will be less impulsive and more thoughtful on the reasons for buying and whether I can borrow it from a friend. If I’m buying, I’ll consider used versus new. If I buy new, I’ll find something that’s more ethically sourced and manufactured; a fair wage, good business practices and sustainable methods of production.
As I continue to write this blog, I plan to search out ethical designers and manufacturers and feature what they’re doing. As much as we’re interested in the latest styles coming out of Fashion Week (as I will be in the coming days in Paris), we should be equally informing ourselves about where our clothes come from – and take a stand against exploitation. The Real Cost is absolutely worth watching; we can no longer turn a blind eye – just because we can’t see it from where we are doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. The human race and our planet both matter.
What are your thoughts on this subject?