The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Last night I saw a documentary film that is truly going to change my life.

I have always known bits and pieces about fast fashion, the garment industry and the importance of organic cotton, but I’ve never seen it woven into such a coherent story as the one I saw last night. I really got it. It hit me deep and I will never look at clothes the same way again. This was one of those moments that the lights turned on, the scales fell off my eyes, and I can’t un-know what I now know. And I don’t want to.

You must see The True Cost.

It is a documentary directed by Andrew Morgan. From the website: “This is a story about clothing. It’s about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?”

I really believe if people knew how most clothing and accessories were made- the truly horrifying process- they would not buy into the system. The director was at the screening and held a Q&A after the film. He said we have all been cast in a role as consumer, and these fast fashion companies are operating under the assumption that we don’t care enough to ask questions.

I do- don’t you?

Maybe we’ve just never thought about it before. The minute I got in the car I heard an ad on the radio for a giant sale at a fast fashion store where all skirts are $6. How are those skirts being sold for $6?

We feel rich because we can go in and buy as much as we want, but really it is making us poor in more ways that one. Human beings are treated as a commodity and are abused, devalued, made sick, and die making these clothes. It’s destroying our planet and at the same time keeping us unfulfilled as all of the materialism fails to make us happy. Then we walk around obliviously in these clothes.

Ignorance is not bliss.

I am no longer playing that part.

People’s lives matter, no matter where they live on the globe.

The director concluded that he does not want any one of us to walk away from this film feeling guilty. Guilt is something you have when you know you’re not going to do anything about it.

And, he said, “I don’t want you to love fashion any less. Fashion is intrinsically beautiful and worthy.”

true cost movie review

The reality was brought up that these horrible jobs are better than no jobs at all, which is heartbreakingly true. But why does it have to be one or the other?

There can be a third way, and we, the ones who use OUR money to purchase the clothes, are the ones with the power to make a difference. We either buy into the system or we don’t. It really is that simple. Every single one of us can do something about this.

There are horrible things in the world that we absolutely can not change, and this is not one of them.

We don’t have to buy cheap clothes. We can seek out clothes that are made in the USA or through fair trade systems. We don’t have to play a part in the problem.

There really is a bright side. There are so many companies already practicing fair trade principles, using organic cotton, and working with rescued slaves and women who have been trafficked.

Companies such as Noonday Collection, Raven + Lily, Everlane, Cuyana, Nisolo, and Indigenous.


Yes, they are more expensive, but what that means for me is simply buying less. My closet would be better off if I did that. Wouldn’t yours? I can’t even close the drawers containing my boys clothes- they could do with less also. The high quality clothes made with organic cotton are the ones that have lasted through two boys and still look good.

Quality over quantity. It is better in every way. (Side note- donating is great in theory, but only about 10% of clothes donated to a thrift store is actually sold in that thrift store. Most of it is bundled up and sent halfway around the world to litter and pollute poor countries.)

This is going to be hard for me. I like clothes, I like new clothes, I like buying things on a whim because I walk past the store and see it in the window and I can, because it costs less than the mocha I’m drinking. As I learned last night, that is not The True Cost of that item…

But I also know it can be done. Our family already does it with food. We have done it with chocolate. My kids have never been to the major fast food restaurants in this country, on principle mostly. And the ones we have patronized are doing their part to source locally, seek out organic ingredients, or share other values we hold dear.

fast food nation eric schlosser

Before I had children I thought it would be impossible to keep them away from certain places, but we’ve done it for almost 7 years now. In fact, when I came home from the screening last night my 3 year old had fallen asleep to his dad reading Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food to him- Eric Schlosser’s children’s version of Fast Food Nation. He loves that book and carries it around asking us to read it to him daily.

We have the power in our lifetimes to see this change.

I haven’t even told you what struck me most about the film- seeing the children and how their lives were affected. Seeing a mom have to take her child to live in a village far away so she can continue the long arduous hours in the garment factory. Seeing a baby sleeping on a hard floor next to a pile of shoes as her mother works on them. Seeing the many children with deformities and severe brain damage and mental illness created by the toxic chemicals used to spray crops and tan leather.

I hope you will make it a priority to see The True Cost. To quote a line from the movie, It is no longer important, it is imperative.

3 thoughts on “The True Cost of Fast Fashion”

  1. I’m very curious to see this documentary and interested in the book that your child enjoys reading, might need to pick it up and read it to my little ones! 🙂

  2. Oh my God. You are really inspiring. I was thinking about this in a much smaller way buying from thriftbooks instead of amazon even though amazon is cheaper. We really have to think about the true cost of things and not just impulsively consume all this stuff sold way below cost (which means obviously someone is losing/being exploited). You’re really amazing with all the changes & commitments you’ve made!

  3. Thank you Rachel! It truly feels like we are always swimming upstream and it would just be so much easier to throw in the towel, so I really appreciate comments like yours. And yes- you are doing your part by purchasing from a second hand bookstore. Once you scratch the surface of desiring a fair and living wage for the people who make all of our “stuff,” supporting local business, care and concern for the environment, it’s hard to buy anything! (books, clothes, shoes, toys, cell phones, home goods, food, furniture… it never ends!) I have a friend whose family was so horrified by their consumerism and the way things are made, they didn’t buy anything for an entire year. Thank you again for your encouragement.

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