So, my simple living fashionistas – what shall we do?
My darling daughter just told me about a fashion documentary that she watched, called The True Cost. Download it for free at http://truecostmovie.com.
After watching it, I will now think twice about where and what I buy. Until this documentary, I prided myself on getting adorable clothes on sale at some of the large brand stores. For example, just this summer I bragged about the fabulous linen shirts I scored that came in oh-so-interesting colors, originally $60 and I got on sale for $15. In years past, I thought that the way to look good and spend less on clothes was to buy just a couple of high-quality and more expensive items in classic styles. My theory was that these classic, higher quality styles would last and last.
But that was before the phenomenon of fast fashion.
What happened is that fast-fashion has created such hyper-fast fashion changes that you’re practically out of style when you walk out the door of the store – any store – upscale store, discount store, whatever store.You’ll understand fast fashion in more detail when you watch the documentary, but for now – its a term that describes brands like H&M, Zara and Forever 21. They imitate the current designer brands and figured out how to make them for super, super cheap, and also crank them out in record time – hence the term, fast fashion.
The other thing they’ve done is amp up the fashion seasons. Used to be that there were four fashion seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter. But in order to create increased consumer desire for more clothes, the fast fashion brand Zara speeded up the seasons, so that they now have mini seasons every week. 50 – 100 new micro seasons a year is the new normal. Once these fast fashion brands started raking in ginormous profits (H&M is now the most profitable fashion brand in the history of fashion earning $22 billion a year), other large brands took notice and followed suit.
That’s why clothing in general has gotten cheaper and cheaper over the years. And the cool thing is – remember when you had to shop at tacky discount stores when you wanted to save money on clothes? And remember how, in shopping at these places you had to accept looking less than fashionable? No more. Now you can get super cute, super fashion forward clothes for even less than you used to spend at the tacky discount stores. In fact, when you take advantage of the sales at these big brands now – you can get them for less than you can buy clothes at a thrift store.
Who could resist this?
Not me, and not millions of female consumers in developed countries around the globe.
But Houston, we have a problem.
Most of us never thought for one second about how these cute and super duper cheap clothes came to be, did we?
And this is what The True Cost is about.
Heres what I learned by watching The True Cost. In order to sell my cute linen shirt for $15, the brands have to produce that shirt for even cheaper. How? By manufacturing mind-bogglingly vast amounts of cheap fabric, and by getting the labor for rock bottom cheap. Remember when that big sewing factory collapsed in Dhaka, India in 2012, killing over 100 of the workers? Remember how we Westerners were in an uproar? Remember how our uproar caused the big clothing brands to promise never to use child labor, and never to have their sewers work in sweatshop conditions ever again? Not on my watch, they said.
But in reality, nothing has changed. If the big fashion brands are going to compete with each other on cost – they have to produce the clothes for cheap and cheaper. So they squeeze the Bangladeshi and other factory owners on price. The factory owners are desperate to get the business, so who do they squeeze? The workers, who earn somewhere between $2 and $3 a day.
Because everyone is squeezed – its easy to see why the Dhaka factory owners ignored the safety warnings before the building collapsed. Funny thing is – the year after that factory collapse was the most profitable year ever for the big fashion brands, earning them almost $3 trillion globally.
Another way the big fashion brands have gotten around the issue of sweat labor and horrible working conditions is by not directly hiring the workers. In Cambodia, another high volume clothing manufacturing region, the state – not the fashion brands – employs the workers. So when a fast-fashion or other big brand has their clothing made there – they can safely say that they are not employing anyone working under sweat shop conditions because they are, in fact, not employing anyone. Its the same as in India. These countries are so poor and so desperate to get the manufacturing contracts that they squeeze the daylights out of the workers. When Cambodian workers tried to protest in the streets not long ago, the government sprayed them with bullets and killed a number of the protestors. The government simply cant afford to pay the workers more because then theyd lose the coveted manufacturing contracts.
The Bangladeshi workers tried to organize in order to earn a little more and have safer working conditions, but some of the ringleaders were locked in a room and beaten. Again, the factory owners couldn’t afford to lose the contracts.
A natural thought comes to mind. Well, $2 or $3 a day is better than begging in the streets and its a way out of poverty, isnt it?
The True Cost response is this: The above is true, but that doesnt mean we need to treat workers in such inhumane ways, it doesn’t mean we need to work them literally to death, and it doesnt mean we need to trash the environments in which they live and raise their children. There is a middle ground – so lets make it happen.
Lets look now at how the fabric is made so cheaply. Most clothes are made from cotton. One of the biggest cotton producers in the world is in Punjab, India. In order to grow the cotton faster and cheaper, it is heavily sprayed with chemicals, supplied by Monsanto Corporation. There are vast acres being sprayed, so what happens? More and more kids are born severely handicapped in Punjab. More adults are getting cancer. And Monsanto? Read about how Monsanto has indebted poor farmers in India to them, and why one farmer commits suicide in India every 30 minutes because they cannot pay their debts to Monsanto: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-seeds-of-suicide-how-monsanto-destroys-farming/5329947
But the problem isnt limited to Punjab, India. Its also in the state of Texas, USA. Texas produces more cotton than any other state in the U.S. Chemicals are heavily sprayed over vast acres of land in the cotton growing regions, and consequently, a rise in cancer there, too. The problem is not limited to cotton clothes. How about that adorable leather jacket or purse you bought, or the way-cute leather shoes you scored for super cheap?
People want cheap leather, so big fashion brands give it to us. How? By manufacturing in places with cheap labor and either lax or no environmental regulations. Whats the environment got to do with this? In order to turn a cow hide into a leather jacket, one of the chemicals used is chromium. Because there is such a huge demand for cute and cheap leather worldwide, thats a whole lot of chromium. In certain regions in India where much of the worlds leather is produced, their rivers are polluted with chromium, the groundwater is contaminated with chromium, and adults and children are increasingly disfigured.
Back to my linen shirt. I remember when buying linen, cashmere or leather were big deals. They were made well and they cost a lot. If you bought one, it was very special and you probably only had one. They were made in places like the U.S. or Italy. So now I understand how things shifted. We live in a consumer culture and are led to believe we need all of these things, and the manufacturers give them to us. Its a vicious cycle, isnt? Not only that – but theres not much thats special any more, in the way of clothes. When you have 10 linen shirts or 5 leather jackets or 20 purses – whats special?
I could go on, but you get the idea. There are many things you can do, and there are brands and designers who are, in fact, doing the right thing.
Heres a link to some of those brands: http://truecostmovie.com/learn-more/buying-better/
And here are some quick tips from The True Cost website:
5 TIPS FOR SHOPPING SMARTER – see the full list here: http://truecostmovie.com/learn-more/buying-better/
1) Will you wear it 30 times? If not, dont buy it.
2) Break the cycle. Just because the fast fashion brands concocted 50 – 100 micro seasons a year, you dont need to buy into it.
3) Spread your fashion dollars. Look for brands that run rigorous fair-trade standards.
4) Detox your wardrobe. Fashion is the worlds second most polluting industry after oil. 10 percent of the worlds biggest fashion brands have committed to phasing out toxic substances. See who, here: http://truecostmovie.com/learn-more/buying-better/
5) Join the fashion revolution. Check out fashionrevolution.org.