I really don’t know where to begin with this post. So I’m going to just keep writing and see where I land. Yesterday, upon my sisters recommendation, I watched The True Cost on Netflix. I was left shocked and ashamed that I wasn’t better informed on this massive problem in the world. Shocked because it’s truly staggering, alarming & heartbreaking. Ashamed because I was so blissfully unaware of my personal impact (albeit obviously small) on the lives of so many unfortunate garment factory workers, through personal purchases, and promotion of these brands on my blog and social channels.
First and foremost, I’m going to suggest that every last one of you take 90 minutes out of your day at some point this week, and watch this movie.
Knowledge is power, and this is not something that we can remain ignorant to any longer.
In a nutshell, this movie takes us on the full journey of where the clothes that we’re all wearing right now have come from, who made them, and what those individuals go through on a daily basis in order to survive. It talks about the impact that major high street brands are having on developing countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, India etc etc. It talks us through the ethics (or lack there of) that these brands stand by in order to bring us the cheap clothes that we all know and love. It explains the supply chain and the ins and outs of that cost structure. It shows us where the costs are cut so that we can enjoy cheap and on-trend clothing. Spoiler alert: it’s the garment factories that are squeezing their prices so low that their workers may as well be working for free. All while the owners and shareholders of the likes of H&M and Zara are laughing their way to the bank. Another spoiler: they’re the real winners in this incredibly horrific situation. It also goes on to speak about the health risks of sweat shop workers, farmers and people who even live in the same city/country. The pollution and environmental issues brought to light, are just as staggering as the direct abuse of these poor unfortunate people.
I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I genuinely cried watching how these people live, the dangers that they face each day, and some of their personal struggles. If you watch it, you will understand what I mean and what I’m talking about. It made me feel so incredibly lucky to live the life that I live, but it also brought so much guilt because I just had no idea how small decisions that I make, impact the lives of others. I want to go into detail on a few different pieces that were brought to light in the movie, because I know not everyone will watch it. But please, keep reading.
Ok so sweat shops…the places where some clothes are made. We’ve all heard about them, but do you actually understand what actually goes on inside them. Or just how many people are impacted by them. Here are a few of the things wrong with sweat shops:
- Workers are paid low/minimal wages – less than $3 a day
- There is a massive amount of exploitation of women & children who are forced into intense labour
- There are over 40 million garment workers in the world & 85% of these workers are women
- There are 4 million workers alone in Bangladesh who create clothes for western brands like H&M, Zara and many more. (I’m specifically naming these two as they are known to be repeat offenders who use sweatshops. There are plenty of other brands who do as well, but I’m not going to name names when I don’t even know for sure)
Obviously these people need work, so there is a need for factory jobs to sustain their economy…but they need respect, dignity, and safe working conditions first and foremost. They’re human beings, not slaves. It’s all coming back to awareness and it will continue to. The more people who inform themselves and avoid these fast fashion houses, the more pressure that will be put on them to change their ways at the root of the problem. It’s the brands who need to put pressure on the factory owners who have the power to up the standard of these work places. They can do this by not putting incredible pressure on them to produce clothing at such low prices.
- The garment industry is one of the most labour intensive industries in the world
- As fast fashion grows, brands like H&M don’t just see 2 seasons per year, as one would expect. These brands are seeing new items and collections every single week. That’s 52 seasons of fast fashion per year. The turnover of goods that is required by these workers is insane.
- Many of the buildings are not structurally secure. One building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed in 2013 after workers begged for factory owners to address the massive cracks in the walls. When it collapsed, 1,134 people were killed, and over 2,000 people were injured. All in the name of fast fashion.
- Many factories have an unsafe amount of people working in them and the risk of fires are huge.
These are just a few things that are wrong with sweatshops, but again, once you watch the movie you will know the true extent of the issues.
I feel like I’m looking at everything I purchase now in a different way. It’s all down to the cost of these items. It can get quite intrinsic and complicated when you try to understand the exact cost and impact of the shirt on your back and how it came to be there. To break it down, try and look at the journey and the lifecycle of your clothes by asking some of the below questions…
- Labour – who made it? Were/are they treated with dignity and respect in their workplace? Are they being exploited?
- Pollution – is the item made from harmful materials? Is it natural materials that have been genetically modified? What will happen to it after you’re finished with it? 11 million tonnes of textile waste from the US alone are dumped and left sitting in landfills. They are non biodegradable so this waste sits in dumps releasing harmful gases that are dangerous for the environment.
- Danger – was it made in a factory that is unsafe for those working in it?
Honestly, I don’t even know for sure if that is everything we should be questioning. These are just things that came to my mind after watching.
What can you do
As I mentioned above, knowledge is power. The first thing you should do, if this is something that you are concerned about, is watch The True Cost.
Quality over quantity
Purchase good quality items that will last & withstand the test of time. I am certainly not going to sit here and pretend that it’s feasible for people to only purchase high end luxury items, but where possible, try to invest. I will definitely do research into brands that bridge the gap between fast fashion and luxury and be sure to share them.
If you must purchase from these fast fashion stores, make sure that you are purchasing something that will see you through at least 30 wears. It may as well be worth the time and effort that has gone into it.
Certain brands are notorious for ignoring human rights and fair trade. I will most definitely be doing my best to steer clear from wearing and promoting these brands from now on.
Donate / Pass it on / Recycle
When you’re done with your clothes, donate them to the homeless, pass it on to a friend, or recycle it into a household cloth. Avoid dumping where possible. Or else make an effort to find a reputable recycling option where you know that your clothes will be used to create more clothes in the future.
We all need to recognise the impact of our consumption. Stella McCartney is quoted in The True Cost saying “the customer is in charge in the fashion industry”, and it’s so true. It’s simple supply and demand. If the demand for these sweat shop based clothing brands goes down, so too will the supply. We should be supporting the brands who support ethically sourced and fair trade clothing. Again, I plan on doing lots of research into this. (Stay tuned)
Acknowledge your style, silhouette & colour preferences. This will help you to reduce the amount of unnecessary clothes that you purchase. Again, we’re going back to supply and demand here.
What you have is what you have right now, so work with it. I’ll be the first to admit that a huge amount of my clothes are from some of the major culprits like H&M, Zara, PLT, Boohoo etc etc. I’m certainly not going to dump them because of this and what I now know. That is such a shame and a waste at the end of the day. I will make an effort to wear them where possible and in different ways, to make their production worth while.
This problem definitely feels so much bigger than one person or even one country but I think starting the conversation and keeping it going is a great place to start. I certainly have so much to learn, and I promise that anything I do learn about or feel is worth while to share, I will. I really want to continue this conversation and although my audience isn’t as large as others who might have a greater impact than me, maybe this could encourage other people to look into this problem and start their own conversation.
What you can expect next from me:
- Research into organic & fair trade brands
- Brands that bridge the gap between fast fashion high street stores & luxury items that are ethically sourced and produced whilst also being of great & long lasting quality
- More information on how you can help / contribute to a solution to this issue
- Information on other individuals who are active in the space and are worth following (Livia Firth, Stella McCartney, among a range of other public figures)
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic / what you thought of this post.
Thank you for reading if you got this far!
PS. I’m also so conscious and hoping to God I don’t come across preachy or like a know it all about this topic. Because I genuinely have only just started learning about it and while I 100% want what I have learned to impact any future purchases that I make, I also am definitely not in a position to avoid the high street. Bear with me…