When we look at the labels on our clothing, we are used to seeing “Made in China/Vietnam/India/Philippines.” It is easy to not think about; nearly everything we buy these days is made somewhere else, so why would fashion be different?
I have long known that people buy too much clothing, and that mass production of anything is usually bad for people and the planet. But the documentary The True Cost delves deeply into the many problems with the fashion industry, and clearly illustrates how damaging and unsustainable it is right now. It is not the haute couture of Dior and Gucci that causes widespread pollution and deplorable working conditions, but fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21.
You should definitely watch “The True Cost” on your own (available on Netflix), to see for yourself the effects that everyone’s mall stores are having on people in the States and on the other side of the planet. It’s true that while your iPhone is also made in China, you will (hopefully) get a few years out of it. You would also never buy a phone, or earbuds, or charger once and then throw it away. People do this all the time with clothing, and at the rate we’re going, we will turn this planet into the world where only Wall-E and a roach could survive.
6 Reasons to Ditch Fast Fashion for Good
1. It’s destroying the planet (obviously). Besides the massive amounts of material and energy required to make so much clothing, landfills are overflowing with cheap crop tops and scratchy sweaters. According to “The True Cost,” the average American throws away 82 pounds of unwanted clothing per year, and only about 10% of donated clothing actually gets purchased on the secondary market.
2. It’s killing people. The most immediate deaths and injuries come from shockingly dangerous work conditions at factories. If the factories don’t get you, cancer or disease might.
3. It’s a feminist issue. 85% of Bangladesh’s millions of garment workers are women. Just like traditionally “feminine” jobs pay less in America, factory workers are trying to raise children and keep a home on shamefully low wages.
4. We’re going broke. An Italian designer in the film points out that in the States, “Important things are expensive. Homes, studies, health care… but you get a consolation and feel rich, because you can buy all these cheap things.”
5. Trends age poorly. A less pressing reason, but perhaps a more relatable one. You know how whenever we see old photos or videos of people and marvel at how elegant everyone looks? They’re wearing classics. The yearbook photos from the 80s that become memes? It’s usually because the subject is wearing something that was trendy at the time, but looked ridiculous only a year later.
6. Small business success is good for everyone. As I learned quickly, once you pursue ethical fashion, you realize it’s not made by giant corporations (ahem, Gap Brands). By purchasing ethically-made goods, preferably crafted in your own country, you will support a small business and contribute to a more local economy. Cash speaks louder than words, so when you make a smart, ethical clothing purchase, you are telling the world that you’re in favor of living wages, safe conditions, and bargaining rights for workers.
Coming up next, how to escape fast fashion and still live your life beautifully. We can, and must, do better.