I love watching documentaries. Growing up in the age of technology and videos, documentaries are a fun way for me to learn and become more aware of the issues in our world. A few nights ago, I watched a documentary called “The True Cost”. It is a film that explores the fashion industry and the concept of ‘fast fashion’, which has turned this industry into a three trillion dollars business. While the fashion industry is booming, this film reveals the hidden side of fashion. What happens to our clothes after we wear them and discard them? How are our clothes produced? Who makes these garments? It looks at the bigger picture, showing the true cost of fashion.
I was deeply moved by this film. The documentary is eye-opening and raw. It shows the human injustice involved in making these garments, revealing that many of these items we buy so cheap are made in sweat shops by workers who may only make $10 a month. Their towns are ridden with disease caused by the chemicals used in either growing the cotton needed for these clothes, or from the off-pollution from these factories they work in. These are horrible working conditions people have to endure, and often times, they are putting their lives at risk for the sake of making $5 tees for the first world. Currently, Bangladesh is the number one country where our clothing is produced, and in 2013, due to neglected warnings, a textile factory collapsed. It killed over 1,000 people and injured over 2,000.To me, the life of another human being is far greater than the cost of a cheap pair of jeans. These people put their sweat, tears, and blood into making these clothes for us, only to have us throw them out with a matter of months due to trends, or the quality of the garment.
Items today are made fast and cheap due to the increased demand of the fashion industry. Instead of having only four seasons of styles and trends, we have 52, with new clothing coming out weekly in major stores such as H&M and Forever 21. Then the “out-dated” clothing gets thrown into landfills in third world countries, decomposing at incredibly slow rates and producing off-gases, such as methane, in the process. These gasses affect our atmosphere, helping contribute to ‘The Green House Effect’. This is not the only environmental issue of fast fashion. Polluted water, degradation of soil, and deforestation are all issues that are increased by this industry.
So what can we do as consumers? Here are four ways to make your wardrobe more sustainable:
Become an Activist First, and a Consumer Second
We live in a Capitalist Society. It revolves around buying and spending. It is our money though, and we can be smart about how we spend it. We need to look at the bigger picture when we purchase our clothes. Where is this coming from? Who makes it? What is the damage done to the environment through making this item?
Just like food, clothing has labels. We can see what our clothing is made of and where it comes from. 97% of our garments are made outside the United States in low-wage countries such as Cambodia and Bangladesh. As I had stated, these countries provide horrible conditions for these workers, and big name brands will source these places due to the low costs they have to pay to get these items produced.
There are companies though that are Fair Trade and are environmentally responsible. You may be paying $20 for a tee shirt instead of $5, but this is because it is providing garment workers with fair wages for their work. Here are 35 clothing brands that you can feel good about shopping at.
Shop at Thift Stores and Resale Shops
I rarely purchase clothing, but when I do, it is always at a resale shop. Getting past the stigma of ‘only poor people shop at Goodwill’, you can discover a wonder of treasures at resale shops. I have walked away with multiple designer and name brands and spent less than $20 on my outing.
Shopping at resale shops elongates the life of these clothes so they don’t end up in a landfill. You never know what you will find at these stores, which is half of the fun in my book! I’ve discovered articles of clothing that I wear on a constant basis and get tons of compliments on. No one will even know it is from a resale shop, unless you’re me and love bragging about the good deals I come across!
Whoa, someone born into the Capitalist society is suggesting that we buy less?! Excuse my sarcasm, but yes. We are a society that is so fixated on buying stuff we don’t need with money that we don’t have. It is no wonder we are in debt. We are caught in this illusion that we can afford items, such as a $10 dress, so we buy it. And then we go out the next day and buy again. These costs add up when we are trapped in this cycle of buying.
I am proud to say that I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve boughten clothing within the last few years, and to be honest, I can’t even do that because I don’t remember the last time I bought something! My wardrobe has been virtually untouched, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not creative in my outfits. I look at my closet as a fun challenge, mixing and matching garments to create a totally new look.
Build Your Wardrobe with Basics
Trends go in and out so quickly, that you’ll buy something at the start of summer only to have it go out of fashion at the end of the season. Patterns and interesting adornments, such as poofy shoulders and crop tops are super cute, but you don’t tend to get a lot of wear out of these items and they aren’t the best investment as far as clothing goes.
One of the reasons I believe I am able to change up my wardrobe without buying new items is in the items I have bought in the past. I tend to avoid trending styles, such as wild patterns, knowing that they will go quickly out of style. Instead, I buy basic garments, such as solid tanks, cardigans, skirts, and jeans, which all have the ability to be paired with one another. If I do decide to hop on the trend wagon, I’ll get an item that isn’t such a huge investment, such as statement jewelry or a patterned scarf. Another great reason for going basic? These items tend to come back in style more frequently than crazy prints. Gaucho pants are super popular right now, and thankfully, I’ve held onto my pairs from middle school. They still fit and it save my wallet and the environment the burden of buying a new pair!
To learn more about the true cost of fashion, check out these websites and join the movement for a better planet!
And don’t forget to watch the documentary, available on Netflix.