Are you aware of the social and environmental costs of the clothes you buy? Learn more about this important issue below...
Thanks to all who came out to Burlington Central Library, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016, to view our screening of The True Cost. The film shed light on the often grim human and environmental conditions behind the fashion and clothing industry which produces the clothes we wear.
"Who pays the price for our clothing?"
The documentary evokes very deep emotion in viewers at times, as sweatshop conditions in the developing world are exposed, with many workers paying the ultimate price.
Sometimes it's the individual factories cutting corners to boost profits, but the problem is often driven by large fashion and clothing companies pressuring factories to drive down prices, which can result in very low wages, and cutting corners on safety and the environment.
If the factories don't cut prices, the big buyers may go elsewhere. All this is ultimately fueled by consumers (that's us) who crave super cheap prices and bargains on clothing, with very little awareness about why that item only costs $5.99 and what was involved in getting it to them. The amount of pollution, waste, and environmental degradation revealed in the film is also quite eye-opening.
"My God, we can do better than this." -Richard Wolff
While the film is difficult to watch at times, it is from such a stark view of the reality of the situation that the urge to take personal action is born.
Take action tips:
“Become an active citizen through your wardrobe.” -Livia Firth
While much of the onus is on the industry as a whole to change its practices, we as consumers can take personal action to help the situation. Here are some suggestions:
- First, help spread the word about this film to others, particularly the more fashion-focused shopping enthusiasts in your life. Encourage them to watch the film online. (Note: River Blue is a similar movie which focuses on water pollution from the fashion industry. It is not widely available for viewing yet, but watch their website in 2017).
- Take the pledge by takepart to become a responsible consumer and educate yourself on the true cost of fashion. Click the read more section of the pledge for some great tips. Here are a few they list:
- Buy clothes made with sustainable fibers (recycled polyester, organic cotton).
- Ask the brands you buy from how their clothes are made—tweet at them or ask retailers when you are in stores about where, how, and who makes their clothing.
- Recycle clothes at thrift stores, vintage stores, or donation locations.
- Participate in clothing-swap meet-ups—it’s fun.
- Buy what you need, not always what you want.
- Participate in “slow fashion.” [rather than "fast fashion"]
- Buy clothes you love, that last, and that have an exceptional warranty policy to help you mend them over time.
- Wash your jeans less.
- Explore The True Cost official website for further information and articles on the subject. View a list of clothing companies trying to make a difference (see Buying Better), along with tips for breaking out of the cycle of "fast fashion". "If we can all commit to wearing something a minimum of 30 times, then we can buy it.” -Livia Firth. Explore the River Blue official website. Continue to educate yourself.
- Learn what Fairtrade is all about and be able to recognize the certification mark on items when shopping or how to seek out those products (clothing or otherwise). "With Fairtrade you have the power to change the world every day." Read about Fairtrade for cotton farmers here. (Ten Thousand Villages is North America's largest non-profit Fairtrade retailer, selling household items and accesories.)
- Have you heard of bluesign before? This is an emerging standard for environmental health and safety in the manufacturing of textiles. It aims to eliminate harmful substances right from the beginning of the manufacturing process and sets and controls standards for an environmentally friendly and safe production. Look for bluesign tags on clothing when you shop. MEC carries many Bluesign clothing items.
- Buy less, buy used: A good way to reduce your environmental impact is by buying less clothing, buying local when possible, keeping and wearing your clothes longer, and buying second-hand clothing. It reduces textile waste, reduces the pollution of producing another piece of clothing, reduces transportation of goods from other parts of the globe, and conserves resources (water, energy, etc.).
"The most sustainable item of clothing is the one you already own." Sass Brown tweet
There are several second-hand clothing stores to choose from in Burlington (eg. Value Village, Salvation Army Thrift Store, Goodwill, Plato's Closet, Revolver, etc.). These locations usually also take used clothing in decent condition.
Interesting article: "Overcoming my fear of second-hand clothing"
- Buy ethical & eco-friendly: Of course, buying used may not do much to help the garment workers in the developing world. But, when you do need to buy new, look for certifications indicating ethically and eco-friendly produced clothes (eg. organic cotton, Fairtrade, bluesign, etc.), and buy from companies with clear policies about this (examples listed in links below, or enquire with the company or check their website - brand and store).
Many retailers improved their policies and pledged to monitor their supply chain better through visits and 3rd-party audits of garment factories, following the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. However, many safety and environmental violations still remain in the industry as a whole. If possible, it's good to check for reports on how well companies are following their own policies, and if suppliers are in compliance, and if those suppliers are audited with surprise visits, rather than pre-announced inspections, and how traceable a company's supply chain actually is. Many companies are still reluctant to pay higher prices to help garment factories improve conditions and pay garment workers living wages.
Here are some brand listing sites that may be helpful in your shopping:
- The True Cost's "Buying Better" page
- The Good Trade
- The Good Shopping Guide (UK-based, but lists international brands): high street fashion, jeans, shoes
If you see companies doing good things, let them know, to encourage them and give feedback that customers value more than just the cheapest price. Conversely, if you perceive that a company is not doing enough to be socially and environmentally responsible, consider letting them know as well, especially if you've decided not to buy their product for these reasons.
- MEC is a good store in Burlington to check out. They have a large casual clothing selection in addition to outdoor gear. View MEC's Fairtrade page here plus social responsibility info here. View their environmental commitment here. Accountability example: view MEC's own score card on how well they are meeting their targets here. (MEC is a long-time supporter of BurlingtonGreen.)
- A few other brands to check out: Patagonia, United by Blue, PACT Clothing. (Note: MEC carries items in each of these brands.)
- Here's a good website which addresses child labour, including a petition to require Canadian companies to monitor and report on their supply chains: No Child for Sale (World Vision Canada). Take their brief Conscious Consumer quiz as a first step to better shopping.
- You may be interested in the Fashion Revolution website.
- Further Reading:
- Article: "There Is a Major Climate Issue Hiding In Your Closet: Fast Fashion" (2016)
- Article: "Fast fashion is creating an environmental crisis" - textile waste (2016)
- Article: "How Can You Tell If Your Shirt Was Made In A Sweatshop?" (2013)
- Article: Sweatshop FAQs; Free trade and sweatshops
- Article: "Clothing retailers respond to Star questions about their labour practices" (2013)
- Book: Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-toxic Beauty
- Wikipedia page: The Rana Plaza collapse, Bangladesh, 2013 (including the fashion industry's response).
- Social media resources:
Hopefully the above are good tips to get you well on your way to a new way of looking at your wardrobe. We will continue to add tips and links to the list as we become aware of them. If you have any suggestions to add, feel free to email to us through our general contact form.