Stephanie watched the documentary The True Cost on Netflix, and it changed her relationship with fashion for good.
Fashion had always been an integral part of who I was and how I wanted to paint myself toward others in this sort of “second skin”. I wanted to invoke sentiment in others through fashion design, as I had been invoked by designers before me. I looked at fashion through rose-colored glasses, and only saw what I wanted to see: La Vie en Rose.
But then I was introduced to the documentary, The True Cost. It finally forced me to take off those rose-colored glasses and see what was actually happening around me.
The True Cost, a film by Andrew Morgan, is a documentary that follows the very secretive global issues that surround the fashion industry. It sheds light on not only the statistical facts, like the fact that the average person discards 170 kg of textile waste each year. It also shows how our consumption behaviors and actions as humans affect those around us that we will never meet.
Beyond style and price: the full scope of fashion
I was very moved by this film, and honestly shocked to say the least.
When I used to think of fashion, I would think of concept design, initial sketching, prototypes, outsourcing, and selling.
But fashion starts with the very cultivation of cotton that produces our clothes. The True Cost went as far as to seek out if spraying fields of cotton with pesticides and genetically modified chemicals (or GMOs) affected the common health of the common person. I was appalled to find out that the GMOs sprayed in cotton fields were active carcinogens. Farmers, workers, and their families showed signs of disease and cancers simply for having lived in close proximity to these now toxic fields. Fashion became a literal poison.
We also need to consider the human experience that is added to our supply chain. Following the collapse of Rana Plaza, the largest garment factory collapse recorded in human history, Andrew Morgan spoke with a young Bangladeshi woman about her striking experience with the factory systems.
Shima Akhter, alongside 8 million other Bangladesh factory workers, makes less than $3 a day. Her work environment is dangerous. She organized a union for her and the other women in her factory and demanded for higher, more fair wages from the factory owners. Not only did management refuse, but instead, she and many others were brutally harassed and beaten for having made such “outrageous demands”. Speaking out against injustice should not be an inherent fear.
And I asked myself, is the exploitation and abuse of others worth the $10 shirt on my back?
A humbling step back
I had an overwhelmingly full closet of clothes, shoes, and bags and still could not manage to put together a coherent outfit. The True Cost allowed me to take a step back from the way I was approaching fashion and shopping.
After having witnessed some catastrophic illustrations of the very obviously flawed fashion system, I knew that I had to continue doing my own research.
I knew that although I still loved fashion, I felt like it had betrayed me in some way. I wanted to rectify what was left of our very tremulous relationship.
…But don’t let this article bum you out just yet! Alongside my research, I found that there are plenty of rather brilliant, impassioned people and companies dedicated to help change the course of fashion history. The reality is, fast fashion is a fairly new concept. Once upon a time, we had it right!
Forging a new relationship with fashion
Through a slower approach to shopping as well as a more creative method to reinventing the clothes I already had in my closet, I began to feel that similar spark in me that fashion had given me long before. It was no longer winter, and green fashion was in full bloom.
I’ve discovered some local shopping gems, fantastic thrift/vintage stores, and have fallen in love with new fashion brands that emphasize transparency, sustainability and season-less fashion–including People Tree (featured here on Go Frank).
Founder of People Tree, Safiya Minney, works to empower women artisans, like Shima Akther mentioned earlier. This way People Tree ensures that this sort of behavior does not become the norm in producing countries. Through transparency and fair labor, People Tree seeks to be the antithesis to the global fashion giants.
It’s not always easy, believe me.
I have to challenge myself everyday, and force myself to ask the difficult questions—who made my clothes? Are they being treated well, paid justly for their work? Where do my clothes go when I donate them? Will they actually be sold in local thrift stores or will they be dumped onto the ports of developing countries?
Because at this point, “making pretty clothes” no longer cuts it for me. And although La Vie en Rose may not be real, La Vie en Vert can very well be.