Saturday, August 8, 2015

The True Cost of the $5 T-Shirt

When I really started dabbling with sewing about 6 years ago it was because I was tired of RTW dresses not fitting properly.

Since that time my attitudes towards RTW clothing have changed considerably.  At first I only sewed dresses for "events," even if it was just my mom's birthday dinner.  Then I realized that I could make clothes instead of buying them - tops, skirts, etc.

After that, I noticed that my shopping habits were rather non-existent.  It wasn't remotely interesting to go to the mall and look through clothes racks, no matter the store.  All I did was inspect darts and seams, judging the quality of those items.  I couldn't bring myself to entertain looking at knit tops at Old Navy because they were "poorly made."

It's not with a sense of pride that I admit my distaste of RTW.  After watching the documentary The True Cost on Netflix recently I'm ashamed that I ever supported fast-fashion chains at all. I'm looking at you, H&M, Forever 21, GAP, Old Navy and Zara, among others.

The True Cost

If you want to see the actual conditions these clothes are made in, watch this film immediately.  We're told that these big garment companies take jobs to these under-developed countries, and while that may be true, a job that borders on slave labor due to a lack of regulation is not a gift.  A [slave labor] job provided only if that country can produce a $5 t-shirt for 8 cents is not a gift.  The "poor quality" I saw in Old Navy's garments was a direct reflection of the quality of life of the person who made it.

The film of course focuses on the cost to people, to humans, just like you and me.  It also talks about the agricultural impact of treating land like an inanimate object for service rather than the thing that sustains us with food, fuel, and nature.  It also mentions the garment industry disaster of Rana Plaza, among others, sadly.  Activists are featured for their hard work for fair trade industries, companies, and debates with the big companies.  Two of the most eloquently spoken interviewees are a Texan organic cotton farmer and a beautiful widow from an under-developed country.

Action for the Guilty

What do those of us do that supported (or continue to support) the fast fashion brands?  I feel more resolved to continue making my own clothes, except now it's not for fun but because I never want to support one of those companies again.  There's such a grave disrespect for the humanity of the workers, on the parts of the governments, the factory owners, the management, and of course, the brands demanding higher production at lower cost. 

There are those whose skills are best put to use in the political fight, those meant for the economic discussion, and then there are those who can quietly express discontent by no longer consuming what those brands have to offer. 

I wish I had the gumption to fight in a different way, but for now all I can do is continue to not shop at those stores. I will cut out my sporadic "aesthetic field trips," as I call them, that I take from time to time to just look at new things.  As one of the women interviewed said, "I don't want anyone to wear clothes made with our blood."


Still doesn't feel like enough, though

My meager financial protest doesn't mean much, especially on its own, especially when I still run to Target for other items, when I am forced to go to WalMart at midnight because it's the only thing open.  This feeling I have, the "how did it get so awful" feeling is the same one that lingered for weeks after watching documentaries about Monsanto and their patenting of seeds, or of the vile mistreatment of animals.  It hurts.  What have we allowed to happen?  More than that, how do we reverse it?

An economist, Richard Woolfe, speaks of reworking our system. Of course we're killing the earth, whose very design is limited sustainability, with an economy that runs on the infinite expansion of consumption of natural - and human - resources.  Of course this has happened.

It's incredibly difficult to see the global hardships - dying villages, chemically-caused genetic mutations, poor work conditions, [near] slave labor, and death - all because I enjoyed walking into the Forever 21 on Newbury Street from time to time to buy a long t-shirt dress for $15 because it is comfortable and versatile.  And yes, it is my fault that the poor conditions happened. Most likely, it's your fault, too.  We shopped there.  We, by our consumption of those garments, gave our approval of the practices. We can't do it anymore. 

The next step for me is to move towards only ethically sourced fabrics.  This is a really hard thing to do.  Not only are they hard to find, but they are rather expensive. Obviously.  In the mean time, I can support the fair trade stores and products near me, and halt my own consumption of cheaply produced fabrics.  

There's a book called Overdressed: the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion that I've been meaning to read for a few years now, even though I have a pretty good idea of what it says, especially after watching The True Cost.  There's a website devoted to the book here.

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Well, this post has been a bit out of the ordinary for the tone of this blog, hasn't it?  Still, it is imperative that this discussion, this awareness get to the forefront of all of our minds.  We all wear clothes. If we all start to purchase them consciously, perhaps this will be a first step towards ending the injustice and disrespect towards garment workers all over the world.

Love to them; love to you.  Let's make the world better, shall we?