“The True Cost” documentary review, takeaways, and thoughts on creating a sustainable world.
I came across this documentary a few days ago, while researching the effects of skincare and beauty products on both our bodies and the environment. My research led to me to consider other aspects of life that we, as a population, don’t even know have a major impact on the environment. What I didn’t expect to find out was the sheer impact of fashion and the production of clothing alone.
One in six of the entire global population work in the fashion industry in some way.
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world today, second only to the the oil industry.
To tell the truth, I’ve never even been that interested in clothing. At least not to the extent that I enjoy shopping or religiously follow trends. I wear what feels comfortable to me and usually, I shop at thrift shops.
I actually quite loathe the fact that what you wear defines you as a person in the eyes of others. I remember living in Thailand for three months and how good it felt to not have to worry about dressing to impress. Once I arrived back in Europe, that changed. All of a sudden wearing the same thing every day labeled me as messy or lazy. Of course, I was living out of the system as a backpacker, but I am still convinced that a family turned down my family at the door of their Airbnb in France because they thought us to be gypsies.
Unfortunately, dressing to impress is the reality of today’s world. It’s also one of the reasons that America has this all-absorbing consumer culture unlike anywhere else. The film, which took over two years and 900 volunteers to create, contrasts the flashy American culture of consumption with the harsh reality of life for the people who work their entire lives to feed our ceaseless desire for material possessions.
The film was heartbreaking and eye-opening on so many levels. For starters, I didn’t even consider where my clothing was coming from. Even though I’ve seen people on the streets of Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia stitching up shirts or gluing together shoes, I never seemed to put two and two together. They were literally making the t-shirt I was wearing, and I was totally blind to it. It’s like buying an apple from the grocery store but never knowing or even considering that that apple came from a tree, on a farm, and that a fellow human had to pick it.
In the 1960’s the US produced 95% of its clothing domestically, but today that number has dropped to under 2%.
Globalization was supposed to be a win-win for the developing and developed world. The first would have access to a wide array of products and resources, and the latter would have jobs and the opportunity to get out of poverty. Sadly, outsourcing has had very harsh consequences for the workers involved. In Bangladesh, factory fires break out frequently killing hundreds. In 2013 the notorious Rana Plaza collapse killed over a thousand and injured another two thousand people.
Sometimes you hear about these events on the news, yet their victims are nearly always dehumanized. It’s as if they are some commodity in which the superior developed world has a right to exploit for our benefit, not real people who want to feed their families, raise their children, and live their lives just like everyone else.
When clothing costs mere pennies to produce, we reap the benefits of cheap fashion. Stores like H&M and Forever21 are able to sell their products for $10, $5 or even less, which makes the consumer feel like their getting a great deal. So we buy more, and more, and more. The “Made in Bangladesh”, “Hecho en Mexico”, or “Fabricated in Cambodia” labels don’t even phase us. In 2015 the US citizens purchased 80 billion pieces of new clothing, 400% more than we did 20 years ago.
Cheap fashion also takes a very heavy toll on the environment. These products aren’t designed to last more than a season or two, so they are quickly thrown away and replaced by something new.
The average American throws away 82 pounds of textile waste every year. That’s 11 million tonnes of textile waste going into the landfills from America alone.
After they’re deposited in the landfills, these synthetic materials won’t break down for 100’s of years.
Films like these are designed to be dramatic and eye-opening for a reason. People don’t know what’s happening or don’t choose to acknowledge it. The more we are able to connect our actions with their effects on others and the world, and show the humanity of developing world, the more we will feel inspired to make a change.
The film ended rather counterproductively, basically saying that all of these things are inevitable. It gave this feeling of hopelessness that there’s really nothing that can be done. Hopelessness is very dangerous. It’s what causes a population to turn a blind eye to these large global issues, especially when they can’t see the effects impacting their lives directly. The issues are labeled third world problems and all inspiration to do anything is killed. Becuase you know, why bother?
You might be one person, but you can actually do a lot. Understanding where your clothing comes from is a start. Thrift shop, inform others, boycott big corporations, shop sustainably, and be mindful of your impact. A movement doesn’t start with a nation, it starts with one person, one idea, and a desire for change.