By Alyssa Burlingame

Disclaimer: all facts presented in this article come from the documentary itself.

The True Cost is a documentary looking at the global fashion industry. I’m new to learning about the fashion industry and what it means to be fashion-conscious, and after watching this documentary I understand more than ever why being fashion conscious is not just important, but imperative. 

As Americans, we are so heavily focused on consumerism; society has convinced us that the only way to be happy is by getting and having more stuff. This translates directly into how we participate in and consume fashion.

In as recently as the ‘60s, the United States manufactured 95 percent of our own clothing. However, we now only manufacture approximately three percent of our own clothing, leaving the other 97 percent to developing countries. 

In the film, John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, says “globalized production basically means that all of the making of goods is being outsourced to low-cost economies, particularly where wages are very low and kept low. And what that means is that those at the top of the value chain, they get to choose where the products are being made and they get to switch…” 

Hilary’s statement essentially means that Western clothing companies are able to simply switch factories and/or countries if they are unhappy with the price at which we are purchasing their goods and labor. 

The average garment worker in Bangladesh, where the majority of our clothing is outsourced from, makes less than three dollars per day. I didn’t know this until I watched this documentary. 

And now that I know, how can I sit back and allow this to be a reality for my global community?

Many of these garment workers are unable to adequately care for their children, so they have to take them to villages outside their cities for relatives or friends to take care of them. In turn, they only see their children once or twice a year.

These realities exist as a direct result of the way we consume fashion. We are so obsessed with “fast-fashion” that we are unable to fully grasp the consequences our actions carry — globally. This is not an issue that only impacts us; it impacts the world at large. 

This documentary goes beyond the issue of fair living wages for those who produce our clothing. It looks also at the environmental impact of the fashion industry on a global scale. 

Kanpur is the leather capital of India, and in turn creates the most pollution and water contamination to the surrounding villages. The main river flows through Kanpur, and therefore the waste being dumped into the river contaminates the drinking water, soil, and food. 

Most of our clothing is made of cotton, and farmers use pesticides to keep their cotton intact. In the Punjab region of India, the use of pesticides causes approximately 70-80 children in each village to suffer from mental and physical handicaps. 

Before recently, I had never given a second thought to the clothes I bought. I knew about sweatshops but refused to see or understand the reality of them. I had no idea the environmental impact my favorite jeans could potentially have. Ignorance is not bliss, and it’s important now more than ever for us to educate ourselves on the impact of our day to day living. 

Complacency is not a behavior we can afford to exhibit any longer. Our global community is being taken advantage of in order to cater to our desires. 

If the roles were reversed, how would we respond? If it were our country and our people, how would we want the world to react? Would we want them to enact change and find ways to better understand the fashion industry so our people would be paid fair wages and have better lives? 

Absolutely.

So if that’s our mentality, then why aren’t we changing the culture? Why are we so willing to sit back and let our global community be wildly mistreated simply so we can afford a t-shirt? 

Garment workers have been fighting and protesting for fairer wages and better working conditions at large. They are speaking out — we need to listen. 

After watching The True Cost, I can no longer ignore the impact my purchases have. I can no longer blindly purchase clothing simply because it’s convenient. That doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally buy clothing from common stores — but it does mean that I will do my best to shop sustainably and ethically made clothing, and I will now understand the weight of every purchase I make.

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