The True Cost

Have you seen the documentary film The True Cost yet?

I highly recommend it.

It’s about the impact of fast fashion on the world, but in larger terms, it’s about something even more eternal — human greed. Because of the industrial revolution and the “advances” which happened since, we can take our very worst traits and speed them up, disseminate them widely, and cause serious damage to people and the earth. It’s not just the big companies, but the average person. Watch the footage of people filming their “shopping hauls” for YouTube and I’m sure you will be as revolted as I.

This is not a feel good movie. I actually was on the verge of a panic attack whilst watching — my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. I cried. You can’t see death, sickness, extreme poverty, broken families, polluted rivers, and shocking waste and remain unmoved (I hope).  Which is why I want you to watch it if you haven’t. No amount of describing the film or my reaction will make an impact like watching the film will. I’ve read books about fast fashion and they have upset me greatly, but I wasn’t prepared for how much greater an impact SEEING was to have on me.

It’s also not a perfect movie. It’s a tangled, centuries in the making problem (it could be argued poor people have always been making stuff for rich people), and of course a 90 minute documentary isn’t going to tease out the complexities. But see it, and do that yourself 🙂 I also don’t think that the free trade companies come off as being sinless, either. They still seem like corporations which are guilty of jetting around the world burning too much fossil fuel, putting too much needless stuff into our world so they can make a profit.

It has only strengthened my resolve to not purchase new, make as much as I can, and wear what I have to patched and patched again rags. I spent Sunday sewing. Talk about slow fashion! It took me 6 hours to make a top, carefully cut, slowly, slowly pinned so the sleeves were set smoothly and the collar laid flat, lovingly french seamed, pressed, and pressed again.

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This feels right. How can something purchased new for $10 ever feel right when you have experienced first hand how much fabric costs, how much work it takes to make something? After you see this film you will know how that $10 top got here, and I hope it will forever change you.

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9 comments

  1. The top is lovely and I admire your sewing talents. The film sounds powerful and I think I would have much the same reaction as when I read No Logo. The problem I have is that the £10 top from Primark and the £50 top from Gap probably both came from sweatshops – so where is the alternative for those of us who don’t have the time or talent to make our own? Much of my clothing comes from charity shops and I tend to wear them to death – but that doesn’t alter the fact that they were originally made by someone else, somewhere else. First world greed is vile, and frankly the only haul I would be happy to watch on YouTube would be second hand books….

    1. You’re correct — many of the same factories are used by H&M and the Gap alike. “Luxury” brands also use some of these factories and shortcuts — the amount of money you spend these days does not mean you are getting quality or good working conditions necessarily.

      I think that each person needs to figure out what their plan of action is themselves given what is around them, their available resources, etc. I’m very lucky in that I love to make things and I have a thrift shop in my town that has reasonable prices, nice things, and is on my walk home from work. (the second hand clothing industry — and it is an industry — is far from perfect too and is not a solution. There is such a glut of second hand clothing that piles in landfills and gets shipped overseas, destroying the local making culture — but I digress). I also understand that having less is necessary. If I wear a dress twice a week, it’s ok. I’d argue it’s vital, even.

    2. I also agree with what you say abount second hand items still being made by someone, somewhere, but the reality of it going in a landfill vs being used, and having something a bit better come from it (my local thrift employs local people, is a positive force on our main street, and donates a percentage of revenue to a different hand picked charity each month) seems better than the landfill. The goal is to have people using what they have so that donating unused clothing by the bagful is as rare as it was in my grandmother’s time (there has always been used clothing, but much of it was remade, given to other family members, etc. I know I looked so forward to getting my older cousin’s clothing that she grew out of each year every fall!).

      1. Agreed – I wear things two or three times a week (but I’m old enough not to care about fashion etc!) I’ll keep patronising my charity stores – at least I’m keeping stuff out of landfill (it has to be falling to bits before I get rid of it).

  2. I do wish that I had learned to sew when I was younger. I know that I could in theory now, but I lack the time and the houseroom. Not to mention the patience. And though I try to shop local or vintage, and to knit what I can, there’s always the question of where the source materal came from.

    My father was always an investment shopper, who knew to buy the best quality he could and to look after things so that they would last, and fortunately I learned from home rather than my mother, who though she is never extravagant loves a bargain and often doesn’t stop to think about value in the longer term.

    I must also, while I’m here, share a quote I think you’ll like, from Margaret Oliphant:

    “Oh, never mind the fashion! When one has a style of one’s own, it is always twenty times better.”

    1. I took a sewing class when I was in high school from a department store (I wonder if department stores still give sewing classes – I bet not) but otherwise have tried to teach myself. One nice thing about sewing right now is that the indie pattern makers have many tutorials. I don’t know what I would have done without Grainline Studio’s tutorials on how to do french seams and make a flat bias neck on their Scout tee. They also have a tutorial on how to draft long sleeves for the pattern which I will try next.

      My grandfather wore things until they fell off of him — I remember my grandmother sneaking into the closet and “secretly” making holey shirts into cleaning rags (which he of course realized and would get so mad!)! He was a carpenter and knew about quality — he wouldn’t buy poor quality tools and inspected clothing the same way. One thing he hated, though, was us going to the thrift shop. He grew up extremely poor and he thought it was a sign of not being able to afford new. We went anyway 🙂

      My grandmother liked pretty things but I remember her wearing the same set of pants, sweaters, and blouses my entire childhood. My mother was a hot mess — better not to talk about her extravagant useless purchases. I learned as much from it, though, as I did the good example from my nana and grandpop.

      I think examining where my yarn and fabric come from is probably next in my baby steps 🙂

      And you’re right — I love the quote!!!

  3. I love how you write about this film and call a spade “a spade”. As you say rightly say, the human misery and environmental harm from the fast fashion machine boils down to greed, pure and simple, and as uncomfortable as it is, we need to recognise that we are not immune from blame.

    Like you and Jane, I learnt about investing in quality which is why I’ve never got “fast fashion”. From my youngest years I can remember my mother walking up to a garment, feeling the cloth and inspecting the seams before declaring whether she did liked it. Usually her response was a disdainful snort – that was 30 years ago when M&S still made clothes in the UK and went down as the years passed and the retailer offshored its operations!

    I too am trying to make as many of my clothes myself and provenance of materials is a big part of the rationale. Additionally, the more I check ethical and environmental considerations, the shorter my list of “acceptable suppliers” is. And if they don’t actually stock anything I aesthetically like, I have no choice but to make my own.

    I love the quote too… and one of the grand things about age is revelling in the wisdom and freedom of style rather than fashion. The other, of course, is not caring too much about what other folks think 😉

  4. I’ve not heard of this film but thanks for writing about it, I would be keen to watch it. I shop in a mix of places but have started making clothes and as you say it takes a long time but it’s a great feeling when you wear something you made yourself that no one else has!
    The top looks great on you. Well done. Keep up the good work! X

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