At What Cost?

The problem of fast fashion is a topic that has simmered below the surface of fashion journalism for quite some time. Articles pop up here and there. A book is written and the idea has a moment... then it is quickly replaced by the next latest, greatest  new thing. 

In such a fast paced world where superficiality and materialism still reign, the idea of examining the process threatens margins. It goes against the line of thinking that newer is better, that more and more and more must be made to keep on the cutting edge and that more must be cheaper because what was released yesterday is already old, the quest for what is released tomorrow must be the goal.

Well, goals cost money.

Making fashion a commodity that everyone prizes drives sales, drives demand. But where does all of that demand come from? How can vast quantities of clothing be manufactured at prices that make it available to the masses at the cut rate they expect? Enter developing nations, where these companies compete for labor at the cheapest rate possible. Where workers are paid per garment created. Where costs are cut on building materials to increase the profit of the subcontracted manufacturers that companies like H&M, Zara, Gap and Target hire to produce their masses. 

Then there was Rana Plaza. Considered the deadliest accidental structure failure in history, the collapse resulted in 1,129 deaths and over 2,500 injured, mostly women who worked in the garment factories that were housed in the illegally constructed upper floors of the building. Investigations revealed shoddy construction and a failure to close the building after cracks were discovered in the structure the day before. Warnings to close the building were ignored  and garment workers were ordered to return to work the morning of the collapse or risk losing a months worth of wages. Over a thousand people lost their lives because managers wanted to complete orders on time to please buyers whose designs change so quickly that they require tight production deadlines or factory owners risk losing business.

Thousands of people were hurt or killed because stores want inventory that changes daily. 

It was in this tragedy that caught the eye of director and activist Andrew Morgan:

I feel challenged to change. To learn to understand why I want what I want. I know that they pursuit of "things" is folly. I know that. Yet I live in a world that bombards me with more, and more, and more, and better. Learning to let those things fade is hard. It requires discipline, constant and conscious turning away from. It required the desire to change, the fortitude to make a different choice. Sometimes that has to come with a hard look at the reality of the consequences of those desires. Watching the trailer for the new documentary 'The True Cost' shines a glaring light on one area that I struggle in: fashion.

Understanding how the choices I make when I chose where to shop can't be separated from the impact to the people who work in the industry behind it. It has to be a priority. Watching the trailer makes me feel sick. I've read the stories about the building collapse in Bangladesh but never let that sink into my own responsibility in disasters like that. The choices I make have consequences, consequences that I cannot turn a blind eye to. Not anymore.

There is always a debate about what makes a choice moral or not. Blood spilled in the war for profits by the companies I pour my money into is as moral a choice as any. Listening to director Andrew Morgan explain why he made the film provides a compelling sense of urgency. He's right. To know where the things I have come from, who made them and how the lives of those people are impacted simply must be considered in every purchase. 

There isn't a pair of shoes in the world worth the price of blood spilled. 

I want to be one who doesn't measure myself on the things that I have. One who knows that the things I own were crafted by human hands. That the lives attached to those hands matter. 

I want to be one who doesn't define myself by the clothing that I wear.

I want to be one who chooses to express myself in ways that have substance, not superficiality.

Choosing to spend my money on brands that provide a transparent supply chain may seem like a small thing. Perhaps it is...

...but what if it's not? What if I make the choice to be an informed consumer... and you make the choice to be an informed consumer... and you tell your friends about your choice and they choose to change too? What if the simple choice of where we purchase our clothes can make an impact on the brands we turn from? What if our lost patronage led those brands to take a hard look at their manufacturing processes. What if those brands chose to invest in the  lives of people who make those garments, people who want a better life? What if this simple choice among all the choices I could make, could make someones life better? Don't I have a responsibility, as a human to make it?

I have to admit that it's going to be hard. I don't know how to always make the right choice, but I know that an acute understanding of the system has to be a part of my buying decisions. I have to admit that taking responsibility for the things I own has to start at the source because, like it or not, what effects one of us, effects us all in the end. 

Visit to find out where you can watch the film and learn more about how you can help.