I’ve been a minimalist for a couple of years, and when you’ve been minimalist for a good while, something changes inside you. You start thinking about the Earth and the people and animals who share it with us. It’s as if there’s suddenly space to think about something bigger than ourselves.
Most of us drift through life buying what we want when we want. Now the internet has made it even easier for us to buy things on a whim. Everywhere we go advertisements follow us, convincing us we’re undesirable, unfashionable, and lacking, despite our wardrobes and cupboards spilling out.
A few weeks ago I watched a documentary called The True Cost (also available to watch on Amazon Prime). Perhaps you’ve heard of it? The true cost is about the fast fashion industry and what our clothing choices do to the people that make them. I turned on this documentary thinking it would tell me what I already knew – that people in the countries making our clothes are poor and work in dangerous conditions.
As it turns out, I knew very little.
Let me tell you, The True Cost is a hard watch. Hard but essential. Not even my husband could watch it the whole way through because it made him so angry. I could see him out the corner of my eye shaking his head in disgust and the corners of his mouth downturned.
I don’t think there’s anybody who can watch this and not be affected because it’s so human and so powerful. It’s as if someone rips the proverbial curtain of your reality down and tears it up beyond repair.
This documentary is nothing like the stuff they showed you at school – people cry, people get killed in the street, beat to death or shot for trying to stand up for better working conditions. I held back tears when I saw an ordinary man standing up for his rights get killed, and the people who knew him were devastated.
Mothers work such long hours they only get to see their young children twice a year who are brought up by other villagers. The heartbroken mother who was interviewed for the documentary, explains that she works so much so that one day her child may have a better future.
Women like her put their lives at risk every day working in unsafe buildings such as the Dhaka garment factory in India, which collapsed in 2013. The death toll was 1,134, and The True Cost shows the footage of people falling to bits after members of their family were found dead or still buried under the rubble.
A previous incident back in 2012 saw the Tarzeen garment factory in Bangaldesh catch fire while all the exits were locked and the windows downstairs barred. 112 workers died and the rest permanently injured themselves from jumping out of the top floor windows.
But they’re not the only death tolls. There’s also the suicides by the farmers who owned the cotton fields; over 250,000 of them who ended up in debt because they were forced to buy genetically modified seeds to meet our clothing demand and make the big CEO’s rich.
Oh, and we’re murdering the planet to impress people we don’t like before we tire of our attire.
In India, the river Kanpur is polluted with Chromium 6 because of cheap leather being tanned. This pollution is slowly killing the villagers who live nearby and giving children crippling physical and mental disabilities. There’s also the towering mountains of discarded trash and clothing.
Here’s a horrifying fact for you: the fast fashion industry is second only to the oil industry for the damage it’s doing to our planet. Let that sink in for a moment.
We’re destroying the beauty of Earth which has been here for over 4.5 billion years, to look good for a day, a week or a month.
What’s that? You think you’re OK if you simply donate to the charity shops? Think again. Most of our clothing goes to landfill where it will rot for thousands of years due to the unnatural materials and polyester used to make them, and the rest ends up in third world countries where it provides jobs but kills their local clothes making trades and prevents development.
By continuing to consume as we are we’re telling these companies and brands that it’s perfectly fine to treat other humans like worthless money printers so long as we can’t see them and get to save a few pennies. That these human lives on the other side of the world are worth less than the $2 a day they earn making these clothes.
One scene showing hundreds of people going crazy in a clothes store on Black Friday sickened me. They went at those clothes like rabid wild animals. Mindless. Greedy. Zero respect for whatever they grabbed in the frenzy.
After watching The True Cost, I found it hard to sleep. I’d recently decluttered a load of clothes from fast fashion stores. Cheap dresses, cheap jeans and £6 tops from Primark filled my wardrobe and drawers.
The factories that make these clothes have no choice but to make clothes on the cheap because as shops over in the west compete for the cheapest prices, so do the CEO’s in charge of the big fashion chains. This means they go over to these factories and tell them that unless they can make tops for 2 dollars or less they will take their business elsewhere.
The people who own those factories then have no choice if they want to keep feeding their families, and the workers then suffer even more under endless hours and poor working conditions that kill many like in the Dhaka factory collapse incident. The sad thing is, there’s often no better alternative for the workers.
The fashion industry is a corrupt system that has gone unchecked for far too long, becoming ruthless and greedy. But as consumers we have a choice. We can take our business elsewhere and only shop with ethical brands. Only by more and more people making ethical choices can we hope to force change.
Brands see money, not people.
We need to change that so that people just like you and I can feed their families, spend time with their children, and not risk their lives in unsafe factories. We need to dry their tears and stop filling our wardrobes with their blood. We have the power.