The True Cost of Clothes

Submitted by egreene on May 20, 2015

Will 2015 be the year when we say enough is enough? The year we hit the tipping point and start to see change in the global garment industry?

The makers of the film The True Cost certainly hopes so. And so do I.

The film, screening in cities around the world starting May 29, exposes the problems that exist, and still too often remain hidden, in the world of fast fashion.

2014, the year after Rana Plaza collapsed taking the lives of 1,134 garment workers, was the most profitable year on record for the fashion industry, estimated at roughly $3 trillion USD.

And why is this so? Consumers around the world are fed messages that if only they purchase a certain garment to look a certain way, their lives will be better. And why not? It’s so cheap. If your life isn’t remarkably better after you buy said-garment, you can just buy another one. This trend is confirmed by the fact that we are consuming 500% more clothing than we were 2 decades ago. (Two decades ago was only 1995!) And we are throwing out more clothing too—on average 68 pounds of clothes per US consumer per year. This vicious cycle needs to stop, because it is workers and communities at the start of the supply chain that are paying the price for ever-more and ever-cheaper clothing.

The price on the hangtag of a Zara blazer or Gap dress is not at all indicative of the true cost of that garment. It does not reflect all the corners that are cut to get the garment on the shelf: the brand squeezing the factory to make the garment for less and less. The factory in turn squeezing workers, asking them to work long hours to meet quotas, for very little pay, often in unsafe conditions. Nor does it include the environmental costs—clothing factories require massive amounts of energy and water to operate and then discharge chemicals into the air and water surrounding the factory. These chemicals end up in the drinking water of the surrounding communities causing life-threatening diseases like cancer or serious mental and physical disabilities.

The True Cost is not just gloom and doom though. It follows fair trade companies like People Tree, which maintains direct and long-term relationships with producers all around the world. People Tree is no small operation, it works with more than 4,000 artisans and produces garments as beautiful as anything you see in the windows of 5th avenue. People Tree is a model for other brands, proving a better way is possible.

The film is powerful and empowering. It asks us to question our consumption habits and to think about the people involved in making all the clothing we wear. It acknowledges that we live on a planet overwhelmed by problems that sometimes feel totally depressing and paralyzing.

But it also invites us to tackle these problems one at a time. What if we started with a problem we are all involved with—the clothes we choose to wear—and started to choose differently. These choices collectively will make a huge impact on the clothing sector. We can come together now and say enough is enough.

The True Cost will be screening in select cities starting May 29, and will also be available online and on DVD for $10-$15.

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