I recently watched a documentary film called The True Cost, it’s insightful, challenging and tragic. It documents the plight of millions of people, just like you and me who work within the garment or clothing industry. It seeks to expand the narrative of the fashion world beyond the glitz and the glamour and lust for clothing, to the grit and dirt and reality of what goes into making garments.
I highly recommend watching the documentary, you may not have even the slightest interest in fashion or trends, but I’m betting you buy and wear clothes!
It got me thinking about my own relationship with fashion/clothing over the years. Growing up my relationship with fashion was somewhat turbulent. In my teen years I saw fashion very much as an outlet for creative expression, it was an platform for displaying my views and perspectives.
I was a pretty rebellious, angry teenager, and clothing was just another way to display my emotions. I thought about what I wore fairly selfishly, it was about me sending a message to other people, usually ‘I don’t care’ or ‘I can do what I want’.
Buying clothing was a bonding experience, I went shopping probably most weekends with school friends, I remember clearly the excitement I felt when finding something I liked. I also remember a distinct feeling of disappointment when I came home with nothing. I had learned to equate shopping with happiness and self esteem.
Somewhere along the way I started to become more conscious about where my clothes had come from. I knew that the clothes I bought had a label, the label simply said the country the item came from nothing more. I began to ask questions; who made my clothes, how much were they paid, what conditions did they work in? I began to see that my short term high when buying clothing came at a long term cost for another person, somewhere in the world.
I started to become interested in borrowing clothes, or swapping clothes and buying from charity shops. My perspective had changed from; how can I get what I want at the cheapest price? To; Is there a different way to shop, do I need this item, can I borrow what I need?
I came across People Tree, probably in 2008, I was 18, and starting to separate my self worth from my physical appearance or wealth. I was enthusiastic about social issues and ethical matters. I saw People Tree as an part of the solution, they made clothes using organic cotton or Fairtrade practices. But it came at a much higher price than I was used to paying. I couldn’t buy my whole wardrobe through them (certainly not quickly anyway). I couldn’t maintain the same rate of consumption at the higher cost. My buying habits had to adapt, and actually despite how I may have felt, this was a very good thing.
I will admit that changing my mindsets has taken time and hasn’t been as easy as I would’ve liked. When you’ve learnt to attach value or worth to shopping or to the compliments you receive when you wear a new item of clothing, or how you feel better about yourself in new things, it takes time to shift that feeling. I distinctly remember this when at a friends wedding three years ago, I wore a dress I’d brought from a charity shop, it wasn’t really the most flattering dress. I felt insecure, and what I’d really craved was a new dress, from a high street store that had made me feel like I looked better.
The issue wasn’t the dress, the issue was my mindset.
If you’re wondering what this has to do with the documentary, I’ll now try and tie it all together. The documentary looks at our relationship with fashion, it makes the point that in the western world worth has been attached to how we look. We are constantly bombarded with advertising, media messages which suggest our happiness is increased when we shop more, or buy the latest clothing.
It speaks about the current trend of young people documenting their latest ‘shopping haul’ on their YouTube channels. Watch the reaction on the faces of these people as they celebrate their mass haul of cheap clothing, they look ecstatic. These are not hidden people, some of these young people have followers in the hundreds of thousands. That’s hundreds of thousands of other people buying into the same message or lifestyle.
The documentary challenges the rate at which we consume things, and suggests that the term ‘consumer’ is a highly toxic and negative way to refer to ourselves. The message is we need to produce less, which means we need to buy less. That we need to be more conscious when we shop on a number of levels, and led by our conscious.
Conscious of the power of advertising and media, that we live in world that projects a certain view which isn’t necessarily true. Conscious of the cost to our planet, and our people that our buying habits have, and shift to alternative methods. Conscious of the difference between need and want – do I need a new item of clothing?
I have been on a journey of becoming a more conscious shopper, a more conscious person. This for me is the fundamental issue, if people do not see the cost of our lifestyle and consumerism, nothing will change. If you want to become more conscious, The True Cost is a good place to start.