Monday, 27 July 2015

Film Review: The True Cost

Earlier in the week, I tweeted that I'd managed to buy a maxi dress at a high street 'fast fashion' store for £1. Yes, ONE singular pound. While part of me congratulated myself on scoring a great bargain, another part of me thought, that's barely worth the piece of cardboard the price tag's printed on. HOW is it possible that I'm able to buy this for a pound?!?

On Saturday, I saw "The True Cost" at the National Museum as part of Edinburgh Fashion Festival and was blown away by how little I knew and how little I'd thought about where my clothing comes from. I've always been aware of the social/ethical aspect of clothing with regard to sweatshops and cheap labour but I really had limited knowledge about the environmental impact.

I was aware that we throw away a lot of textiles from conversations with my friend Yaz, who has started up Awkward Chat in Australia and is all about up-cycling and getting people to initiate conversations and start thinking about where their clothing comes from, the people who have made it and where it ends up when we're done with things. But I was still surprised to see it in visual terms. The sheer amount of textiles that are sitting in landfills... slowly releasing toxic chemicals into the air over the 200 years it takes to break down and 'biodegrade'.

The most surprisingly thing for me was the cotton farms and growers. This is a part of the manufacturing process I think very few people think about. Where the fibres actually come from that make our clothing. Many of us are all very aware of buying organic fruit and veg and locally sourced meat etc. and we feel these things are important because we're physically putting these things into our bodies. But how have none of us thought about the origins of the things we put ON our bodies? I'm sure most of us have seen 'Organic Cotton' tags on clothes in certain shops, but like me, you've probably never stopped to think about what that actually means.

I never realised that cotton farms are blanket sprayed with pesticides from airplanes in many parts of Texas (and one has to assume it's the same the world over). Which may not mean a lot but when you think of all those chemicals being absorbed by the soil which grows food and leeching into the water supply, it starts to get a bit scary. That so many people are getting sick in those areas cannot be unrelated.

Another shocking thing for me was the statistic about the suicide rate of cotton farmers in India. It's absolutely staggering that no one knows this is going on. The health issues of people who live close to the tanneries in India where there is just no regulation about the chemicals which are dumped into the water is heart-breaking.

Of course there was also talk about the tragedy at Rana Plaza and the abysmal conditions that people are forced to work in, with argument on the other side that 'if these people didn't work in these factories, they could be doing a lot worse things'. Well, although that may be true, is that really good enough?

How do we hold these large corporations accountable? Is the solution to just boycott these stores? Does losing one customer or one hundred customers even make a difference to their bottom line? How do we tell them that it's time to start making some changes because how things are today is not acceptable?

I was in the throws of discussing the above and how helpless I felt about the whole thing and that my only course of action was to go home and feel like a bad human being for fallen victim to fast fashion and my love of a bargain when someone joined the conversation and said, at least now you're thinking about it and talking about it, and that's the first step to making a change.

I sincerely hope so and I really hope I can seek out alternative places to shop and support businesses like People Tree who are really doing their part to pay proper living wages, trade ethically and giving back to these communities.
xx Caz


  1. Here's some discussion which followed when I posted about this on facebook :

    Yaz: It's weird, I often forget that people don't know how their products are made. It might not even be something they think about. But once you start to learn it affects your eyes/brain! Everything will look different. Everything.

    You'll wonder how companies can get away with selling a product that's made with slave labour. (Hint: governments are in on it/paid by corporations)
    You'll wonder how people can wear a product that has been made using slave labour. (Hint: because they don't know/care/have time to look for another option/want what is presented to them in the media/etc etc)

    The clothes in the shop, people made them. Peoples' hands touched that item of clothing at every step of the production line. As consumers, we're very disconnected from the whole process. They're selling a dream, an image, a value system. And we buy it. When we stop buying without thinking and explore the situation for ourselves, that's when our eyes open.

    I also think it's important to present this info with options of what you can do to make changes. Otherwise we just end up feeling useless and that is not a encouraging emotion.

    I'd start with thinking about some issues that are non-negotiators.
    Some criteria that must be met for you to purchase something. Then from there you can work out the issues that are important but you're flexible with. These criteria will provide a framework through which to view a future purchase.

    The thing I wish the documentary had touched on a bit more is: just because it's an expensive brand doesn't mean they are saints. A higher price tag doesn't necessarily mean the people in the supply chain are paid more.

  2. Virginia : making changes is the important part right? like don't just boycott brands that use sweatshops - these workers need the jobs, and will just move to a new sweatshop. advocate for better conditions thereof.

    Me : agree with what Virginia is saying too, it's a harsh but brutal truth that when they say getting paid terrible wages in sweatshops is actually NOT the worse they could be doing.. It's grim but we need to have some way to hold these large corporations accountable..

  3. Yaz : Yep people need work, but I'm hesitant to say don't stop buying from these companies. In fact I won't say it. BUT, I think if you're a regular customer of a certain brand and you decide that you just can't buy/wear their products anymore because of how they're conducting their business then you should TELL THEM THAT. They're not going to know why you stopped buying unless you tell them. But if we keep buying from them then they have no reason to make changes.

    That's what Fashion Revolution Day #whomadeyourclothes is all about. Contacting brands and asking for transparency. Letting them know that we actually care how they do their business and we want to know they're products are made in a safe and fairly paid environment.

    So called sweatshops still exist for sure. But a lot of the time these companies are using giant factories, kitted out with expensive equipment and with well trained staff/highly skilled staff. Doesn't mean they're paid properly though, or that the building is actually safe (Rana Plaza garment factory).

    It's not only third world countries either. Sub-contractors and at-home workers are a normal situation in Australia (and I'm sure other countries) and there's no regulation with regard to their pay. Labour is the item on the spreadsheet where you can cut costs, most other costs are set in stone. Companies will ask stay-at-home/sub-contractors to play against each other for who will do the cheapest price (of course, this is how we're taught to do business.... isn't that just the economics?).

    I don't think we have to do business this way. And I don't think we have to buy in this way.

    There's so many more businesses now that are creating clothing in a fair and less harmful to the environment way, IF we are going to buy then we should support the businesses who are in line with our values. And let those other businesses know why you stopped buying from them.

  4. Hey Caz, not sure you saw the post but this is Leona from fluph saying you won the EYF ticket competition. drop me an email at and i will get them to you :D

    p.s awesome blog

    1. Thanks Leona!

      Have emailed you.


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