Document Your Life #97 – The True Cost

Have you ever seen the documentary The True Cost about how cheap clothes are made in countries like Bangladesh, India, The Philippines and what kind of impact the fashion industry has on these countries, their people and the environment?

It’s shocking. Hard to watch, really. I must admit that I’ve never thought much about it myself or maybe I didn’t want to because I am a consumer of these cheap clothes myself and therefore part of the problem.

If you ask me what my favorite clothing store and brand is, I’ll instantly say H&M. It’s always been my favorite and even to this day, despite the fact that I can afford better. I can afford to pay, say, $100 or $200 on a piece of clothing, but I choose not to because I’d rather spend my money of something else… like traveling or experiences. So, I buy clothes that are cheap.

But the actual, true cost of my $20 summer dress from H&M that I bought 3-4 years ago (and still use) is…well, who really knows?

Factor in the costs of pollution, the human costs that the garment workers have to endure to work for many hours a day in a bad working environment, the health costs and sometimes even the cost of lives (remember when that garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh and more than 1000 workers died?)…then that $20 dress might all of a sudden not be so cheap.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, you should. You’ll learn a lot, like the fact that the fashion industry is the world’s 2nd largest environmental polluter, next to the oil industry!

I was shocked when they interviewed the woman from Bangladesh and she was telling her story of suffering and how all these people wanted, was to make a decent minimum wage of $160 a month. She even organized a union at her factory, which was shut down when one day, the management decided to lock up the factory (with the female union workers still inside), gain up on them and beat the living daylight out of them for unionizing.

All of a sudden, my $20 dress from H&M looks, smells and feels really bad.

It’s not just H&M. It’s ZARA, Forever 21 and many more clothing brands that sell cheap clothes that are all made with the blood, sweat and tears of underpaid, overworked people…who seem to have no other choice in life than to go on. No matter how much it hurts.

So, now there’s this whole new monster to take into consideration – the Fair Trade monster that promotes sustainable, organic clothing made by workers who are treated fairly and make at least minimum wage in their country.

I still think that step 1 should be to buy less clothes. In the documentary, they were talking about how fashion has changed and become “fast fashion” (like fast food) with a new “collection” or new pieces coming into stores every week. When I was a kid living in Denmark, we had 4 seasons in fashion that followed the 4 seasons in weather. Today, there are apparently 52 seasons in fashion and an incredible amount of over-production (at low costs) and over-consumption (at high, true costs).

There’s even so much production that a power plant in Sweden is actually burning (H&M) clothes instead of coal to provide electricity for homes:

The combined heat and power station in Vasteras, northwest of Stockholm, is converting from oil- and coal-fired generation to become a fossil fuel-free facility by 2020. That means burning recycled wood and trash, including clothes H&M can’t sell.

Perhaps the next step should be to only buy new clothes that are Fairtrade, organic and sustainable or start shopping 2nd hand once in a while?

I wonder if Fairtrade clothing companies actually label their products as such, like they do on e.g. coffee and bananas? That would really be so helpful.

If you want to watch The True Cost, find our more on their website www.truecostmovie.com

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