The True Cost of Fast Fashion

For Shima and Nadia,

Last night, armed with a bowl of homemade pumpkin and sweet potato curry, a warm blanket and my fluffy house bunny hopping around, I sat down to watch The True Cost documentary by Andrew Morgan about fast fashion and its effects on the environment and human suffering.

Having seen the trailer beforehand, I knew it was going to be difficult viewing in places, but I hadn’t anticipated being so touched by one particular story: the life of a young woman named Shima and her daughter Nadia.

If our world has got to the point where a 23 year old woman in Bangladesh has to give up her daughter just so we can have cheap clothing, then something has gone seriously wrong.

And I, for one, don’t want to be part of the problem.

In the west, we have choices and a voice. Not everyone is so lucky.

Have you ever been to your boss to ask for a pay rise? If so, you were probably asked a few questions about why you thought you should be paid more and then went on to negotiate the exact sum. Worse case scenario, your boss would have said ‘no’ and that would have been the end of it.

In Bangladesh, by contrast, when Shima and her fellow union workers asked for a pay increase they were locked inside the garment factory and physically beaten. All for asking for just a few dollars more a month to be able to live with dignity.

Many of these workers (85% female) are working long shifts, day after day, in poor, crowded conditions for less than US$150 a month. Of course, you can argue that living costs are lower in other parts of the world, and that’s true, but when other human lives are paying such an enormous cost and living in suffering for our short-term pleasure (how much joy does that £5.99 t-shirt bring you anyway?), then the system is seriously broken.

While we as individuals may not be able to change the world, together we can make a difference.

  • The first step is education and awareness. Watch documentaries like The True Cost (and other environmental movies such as Cowspiracy, A Plastic Ocean and Before The Flood) to learn more about the bigger picture. It’s so easy to think that this one plastic bottle or this one cheap t-shirt won’t have a negative effect, or to believe that your positive contribution won’t make a difference because millions of others are still trashing the planet, but it’s not true. Every little step we can take makes us part of the bigger picture and part of the change.
  • Every time you learn something new, share it! Talk to your family, friends and colleagues. Share a photo on social media, write a blog, post a video or organise an event to bring your community together. Spreading awareness is vital and will make you part of the catalyst for change.
  • Vote with your money. The plastic problem has now been headline news for some time and we’re all becoming more aware and (slowly) changing our daily habits. However, the true cost of fast fashion isn’t such a widely acknowledged problem. In the western world we simply want more and more stuff at a cheaper cost. And somewhere in the supply chain, something has to give. For fast fashion, it’s the lives and suffering of garment factory workers. In order to drive down costs factory bosses have to skip vital health and safety precautions, putting lives in danger every single day. (The Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka in April 2013 killed 1,134 workers.)
  • Change your mindset. We’ve become a throwaway culture due to the marketing practices of the last fifty or so years that brought us both planned and perceived obsolescence. For the younger generations, that’s all we’ve ever known. Things break, we replace them. In the past we used to repair goods and clothing and pass furniture down through generations – now it’s a quick trip to the shops and we have something brand new. But what do we do with all our old stuff? The vast majority simply gets thrown into landfill and as it takes hundreds or even thousands of years to break down, it’s still sitting somewhere on the planet, even if you can’t see it. Perceived obsolescence makes consumers believe that they need an updated version of a product, even though theirs works perfectly well – e.g. cars, smartphones, computers and fast fashion. Before you buy anything new, consider how you may dispose of it after use and whether there’s an alternative that’s better for the planet (even if that means spending a little more money).
  • Support people and organisations who are striving to make a difference. Seek out local environmentalists and activists who are organising events and either share the details with others to reach a bigger audience, or go along in person and meet like-minded people. Buy from organisations who share the same ethics and values as you: companies that are reducing packaging, supporting fair trade and workers’ rights and lowering their carbon footprint.
  • Before you buy any more clothes or shoes, empty everything from your wardrobe (including coats, accessories and bags) and take an honest look at everything you have. Donate things you no longer wear, repair anything you love that needs fixing, and cut up old, stained shirts into squares to use as cleaning cloths. Reduce the amount of clothes you have and then only buy specific items chosen on purpose to be part of your new capsule wardrobe. Don’t forget to look in charity shops or buy second hand or organise swap parties with friends.

You can buy The True Cost on iTunes for just £5.99 or visit truecostmovie.com.

Lorraine xx

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