I’ve been planning to watch this documentary since the 2015 2-year anniversary of the tragedy that occurred at the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh. Perhaps I procrastinated because I was afraid that watching the documentary would fundamentally change the way I shopped. Shopping for me was always about finding a “good deal”, a “unique design”, or the next “investment piece” that would last for longer than a year. Perhaps I feared that adding morals and ethics to the purchasing equation would leave me with no new items or would limit my options to vintage shopping and learning how to sew myself! (Note: I would like to visit vintage stores and learn how to really sew at some point)
Well, today, after making a lot of excuses, I finally sat down to watch the film, learn the truth, and reflect on my role as a consumer. If you haven’t watched The True Cost yet, it’s certainly a must-see, especially given the recent news. The documentary, which is available on Netflix, interviews a wide variety of stakeholders concerned with the fashion process including: farmers, factory workers, designers, free market economists, founders of civic groups, etc. While the shift between the discussion on labor practices to the discussion of the ecological impact of the fashion process was somewhat abrupt, it was important that the film explored both sets of consequences. I found myself cringing with guilt when the film showed a few YouTube haul videos since I have definitely watched my fair share of haul videos to pass time.
I learned quite a few things while watching The True Cost:
First, fashion is the most labor-intensive industry and most people don’t consider the negative externalities of the $3 trillion industry.
Second, farmers in India have been committing suicide over high prices of inputs like seeds and fertilizer.
Third, I’ll admit that I had a clue about this shift before watching the film, but the industry has convinced consumers to treat the items they should use for long periods of time as items they should use up.
Fourth, fast fashion isn’t the only culprit here; the chromium 6 process of treating leather also hurts communities, the environment, and people’s lives.
Ultimately, The True Cost forced me to ask, why should people lose their lives so that I can think that I look cute?
This question left me craving practical solutions which the film failed to deliver. However, the film concludes by suggesting that viewers check out truecostmovie.com for actionable ideas. I HIGHLY recommend reading the website’s buying better guide. It lists conscious brands, contains video interviews, and links readers to other sites focused on improving the fashion process.
As a consumer, the first thing I can do differently is to buy fewer items and appreciate and properly care for the clothes that I already own. When I do decide to buy something, I want to make sure that I’m consciously thinking about the quality and how long I’ll keep the item in my closet. Finally, I hope to start buying from brands that consider human and environmental costs in their production processes.