The Truth of Where Our Clothes Come From
Today I want to share with you a topic that may potentially be new to you. Like many injustices of the world, those who benefit from these practices know it’s within their interest to keep the realities of their industry secret. They understand that if the public and those driving their business financially through consumption were aware of the truth of their industry, their profits would dwindle and suffer.
I’m sure as you were growing up your parents, teachers, coaches and mentors in life probably didn’t share this information with you. Not necessarily to keep you in ignorance, but likely because they themselves were not aware.
With any new understanding of a harsh and saddening truth, I encourage you to receive what I’m about to share with you with an open heart and mind.
The truth of this reality dawned on me when I watched the documentary “The True Cost.”
“The True Cost” is a documentary film about the clothing and fashion industry and explores the many repercussions and conditions that exist due to our demand for fast, affordable fashion.
Watching this film completely rocked my world, transformed my life and changed the way I look at certain things in the world. I want to share this film’s important message with you, because I think it’s absolutely necessary that you too know what’s going on.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “Where do my clothes come from?” Consider the outfit you are wearing now. Whether you are reading this blog post over a cup of tea in your pajamas or at your office in a tailored suit, stop to reflect on the countless processes the textiles that rest on your body at this moment had to go through before composing your stylish attire.
Behind every article of clothing we own are countless individuals.
And it's time we begin considering how our purchases impact their lives.
So how did we arrive to this point? While America once produced the majority of its own clothing goods, within the past 50 years the amount of domestic production has dwindled with the era of “Fast Fashion.” “Fast Fashion” evolved from fashion retailers manufacturing clothing rapidly that captured designs of the catwalk to the hands of average consumers at prices they could afford.
The True Cost
But how could retailers afford to push the consistently evolving fashion trends at prices the public could stomach? The answer: by paying unlivable wages to garment workers.
The industry is saturated with clothing brands and companies that are doing all that they can to have their line produced in 3rd world countries, places like Cambodia and Bangladesh, for as cheap as they possibly can. This allows them to sell clothes at cheaper or reduced prices compared to their competitors, while still profiting in the trillions on the backs and hardships of outsourced, cheap labor in foreign nations.
“Fast Fashion” is created at the expense of workers who are not treated fairly. Workers are not paid livable wages, making it difficult to impossible to cover some of the most basic needs we may take for granted daily, such as feeding themselves and their children or having a safe place to lay their heads at night.
We are increasingly disconnected from the people who make our goods as companies outsource to nations where workers do not have the same rights and protections as those in the West do, intentionally exploiting their vulnerability. Garment workers are some of the poorest paid people in the world, a factor we can no longer ignore as consumers.
The conditions of garment factories are appalling.
Take a walk in another’s shoes for a moment…
You are a poor, uneducated woman in a developing nation. Garment work is the only livelihood available to you, therefore, despite the trying circumstances, you’re left with little choice to feed and support yourself and your family. You are forced to work 14 to 16 hour days, seven days a week. You receive inadequate rest between shifts and are denied adequate breaks throughout the day. You are not compensated for working over time. The factory you work in is cramped, hot and unsafe, hazardous circumstances that lead to work related injuries and factory fires.
Over the past three decades, 50 major factory fires have resulted in hundreds of workers’ deaths and thousands injured. (Source: Waronwant.org)
Workers succumb to such pressures because they live in an economic climate that provides them with little to no alternative options of livelihood. For many, this is the best paying job available to them in their country so the need to compile with inhumane and unjust practices is high.
Factory building collapses, unsafe working conditions and their immense consequences are a result of us consumers wanting to look good by keeping up with the newest trends and fashion.
Now that we know what’s on the other end of this supply chain, we can refuse to stand by and support it.
With clothes available in rapidly changing trends at record low costs, as a culture, we are now relating to the clothes we wear as disposable. The times where clothes were individually made and tailored and sold at prices accurately reflecting the resources and workforce behind a garment may seem far behind us. This shift in our perception of clothing’s worth and value has resulted in the average American tossing out 82 pounds of textile waste each year. Pair this with the 400% increase in apparel consumption in the past two decades alone and we’re left with a dangerous formula for speedy textile waste creation. (Source: TheTrueCost.org)
The fashion industry’s footprint is tremendous, ranking as the second largest polluter after the oil industry.
Hands Red With Exploited Labor
The culprits of the fast fashion industry are familiar names. Companies such as Forever 21, H&M, Nike, Adidas, JcPenny, Walmart, Gap, Zara, Victoria’s Secret, Sears, Urban Outfitters and SO many more are amongst those engaging these practices.
You may potentially be swimming in a pool of guilt as you pull at your Forever 21 crop top and H&M joggers.
But please, do not beat yourself up for past actions.
There is no sense or justice in tormenting yourself for past purchases. I encourage you to empower yourself with this knowledge to make more sound and conscious shopping choices moving forward.
I too was shocked when I learned of these realities. I knew I had to share this knowledge with as many people as possible, because when I became aware of the implication of what I once perceived as innocent shopping hauls, I knew I had a responsibility to no longer support the unsafe and basic human right violations of other people’s lives.
Much like when I learned of the plight of animals in factory farms, I knew I had the power to vote with my dollar, and I wanted to vote with integrity and compassion.
What Can We Do?
We’re really in control as consumerism.
We get to decide whether we want to support these unethical practices or not. There are so many alternative ways to purchase your clothing. I want to share some of those options with you now.
- Buy Fair Trade: There is an abundance of companies committed to providing fair wages and safe working conditions while supporting local sustainability and empowering workers and farmers in the production line. Companies such as Patagonia, American Apparel and PACT Wear are brands you can feel proud to support. You can find a more extensive list of fair trade apparel lines here.
- Boycott Fast Fashion and Buy Second Hand: Purchasing used, lightly worn garments is not only an ethical and environmental choice, but a financial one too. You can find unique, second hand clothing at a fraction of the cost compared to purchasing them new. This is a great way to still wear recent fashion trends without directly supporting unethical brands. You can also shop secondhand online. I purchase most of my clothes on Poshmark, where individuals sell stylish used clothing at fair prices.
- Host Clothing Swaps: Hold a clothing exchange with your friends! Not only is this a great way to trade valued clothing that you no longer wear for articles that you will, but it’s also a great excuse to gather good company. That dress you’ve only worn once that’s been idling in your closet for months may look better on your best friend. Don’t worry, she probably has something that vibes better with you too!
- Slow Down Your Cycle: The current culture of “Fast Fashion” suggests that trends rotate multiple seasons per year, deeming our clothing items “outdated” and “disposable.” Can you commit to wearing purchased items at least 30 times? Slow down and break this wasteful cycle.
I encourage you to really think about this.
Where are you putting your money? Do you agree with what you’re supporting? If not, why are you contributing to them?
There are so many other options. Please do not turn your head to what is happening. Your consumer choices make a difference.
Fashion can be a joyous and creative art form and means to express ourselves. We can display our playful, fun side with explosions of bright colors and whacky patterns or share mysterious or calm aspects of our personalities with cool earthy tones and flowing, dancing material. We can still do this all, without supporting the cruel and inhumane practices and conditions of the fast fashion industry.
Let’s commit to living a more connected life.
Just as we strive to be responsible with our food, bodies and mind, it’s vital that we do the same for the individuals who make our clothes. By shifting our practices, we inform brands that the lives of these workers matter to us, as do their voices.
Show them that you care.
I know I do.
“I hope people open their eyes and hearts to the simple truth that there are people behind the clothes that we wear.”
–Andrew Morgan, Director of “The True Cost”