WHAT IS THE “TRUE COST” OF FASHION?

Hi everyone! This week, I’m taking a different approach to my blog.  In addition to providing fashion tips, I want to explore other ways to make this blog more impactful for readers.  As a result, I’d like to discuss a terrific documentary I recently watched, entitled “The True Cost.” The film discusses the phenomenon of “fast fashion” and the negative impact it has had on human rights and the global environment. As a designer, I found the film to be incredibly moving and informative, and I feel obligated to share some of the key issues highlighted by the director Andrew Morgan.

So what exactly is fast fashion? Primarily emerging in the last decade, this business model is focused on the rapid turnover of merchandise.  Due to inexpensive labor in third world countries, popular brands such as H&M, Forever 21, and Zara are able to transfer designer trends from the catwalk to their stores at an alarmingly fast and cheap rate.  The end result is a staggering amount of merchandise sold to consumers at throw away prices.  As consumers continue to purchase at unprecedented rates, manufacturers such as the ones noted above are generating huge profits. In fact, H&M is the second largest clothing corporation in history with annual revenues of $18 billion dollars! 

So why is fast fashion so bad you ask? After all, everyone loves a great deal! And if end consumers are getting a bargain, manufacturers are making a fortune, and economic growth is being spurred in third world countries, then what’s the problem? Well, in order to understand the negative impacts of fast fashion, we first need to take a look at how the fashion industry came to the point of manufacturing everything overseas. 

Up until the 1960’s, 95% of clothing was still being produced in the United States.  Nowadays, only 3% of the clothes we wear are made in the USA and a staggering 97% is sourced from around the world. Why such a huge shift? As you may know, one of the main drivers is extremely low production costs.  Third world countries such as Bangladesh are so desperate for employment that they reluctantly meet manufacturers’ high supply demands. Unfortunately, today’s four million Bangladeshi factory workers earn an average minimum wage between $2-3 a day, the lowest paid in the world. 

Besides low wages, manufacturers also benefit from having less liability by producing overseas. Generally, companies are not held accountable for the effects on human and environmental health in other countries, nor do they own the production facilities. In 2013, Dhaka, Bangladesh suffered the worst garment-factory catastrophe in history.  A massive, nine-story building employing 5,000 workers collapsed and tragically killed 1,129 people.  It was later reported that despite complaints from the workers that there were cracks in the foundation of the building, they were forced to continue operating in the unsafe building. As part of the fallout from the tragedy, many of the families of the disaster victims have been unable to receive compensation, and Wal-Mart was one of 20 brands tied to the collapse that refused to sign a compensation deal.

Manufacturing in India brings about more issues, where the production of leather and cotton goods is widespread.  Unbeknownst to many, the treatment of leather requires very toxic chemicals, and these toxins seep into the native soil and waterways that supply the only source of drinking water for many villages.  Unsurprisingly, residents who have ingested this contaminated water have exhibited a high incidence of dermal ailments, cancer, physical deformities, and mental disabilities.  Similar health concerns are prevalent in regions where cotton is harvested.  In order to keep up with the demand of textile production, cotton has been genetically modified.  Although these seeds provide a larger yield, the amount of pesticide that is needed to sustain the crops is enormous.   As the pesticide residue seeps into the water, health concerns abound in villages where people are too poor to afford healthcare.

All this begs the question: what can we do as a society to address these issues?  Although it would be easy to place the blame squarely on manufacturers, there are multiple players at fault in this.  Besides the faults of the brands we discussed earlier, foreign governments must not allow companies to exploit their workers and pollute their environment with little to no consequences.  Factory workers must also continue to unite against such low wages and refuse to report to work.  And finally, WE as consumers need to start questioning where our clothing is coming from and not just focus on the price tag. We have the purchasing power to support companies that produce ethically and responsibly.

Overall, I was extremely touched by the stories of these garment workers and the hardships they go through to make a living.  As I continue the journey toward building my brand, I am grateful to have had my eyes opened to the importance of producing garments in an ethical and sustainable way.  I encourage you all to take the time to view this documentary and stop to think the next time you’re shopping… what is the true cost of what I’m purchasing? 

Check out the link to the movie website for more information!  http://truecostmovie.com

The movie is available on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.

After watching the movie, post your thoughts and comments in my blog section.  I would love to hear them!  Let’s get this discussion started!

Thanks again for reading, 

Cheers!

BhavyJ