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.