The True Cost: Why what you buy (and where you buy it from) really matters

Every morning, I open up my inbox to see at least 10 new messages. Unsurprisingly, each of those messages is from a different store- J. Crew, Nordstrom, Ann Taylor- promoting their newest sale or latest "it" dress. From the moment I wake up, I'm flooded with information about what to buy next. While I did enjoy (and still do enjoy) browsing these sites in anticipation of my next purchase, I've begun to look at shopping a bit differently. That is, once I watched The True Cost.  

The True Cost is a documentary which sheds light on the world of "fast-fashion," the subsequent consumerism of said fashion, and the affect it has on both people and our environment. Fast-fashion can be defined as fashion which moves swiftly from catwalk to catalogue, often advertising a dirt-cheap price for the newest trends. You can watch the trailer here for a bit of a primer on the topic, or check it out on Netflix for the full movie. 

This documentary primarily highlights the problematic nature of our globalized economy, and our ignorance to the consequences of our purchases. In a perfect world, this system would work such that "consumers in the rich world would get cheaper goods, and people in the poorer parts would get jobs, and that would allow them the opportunity to move up in the world."

But, spoiler alert: this isn't a perfect world. 

Sure, globalization isn't going anywhere. And it can sometimes even be a good thing. But this process is being exploited such that our desire as consumers to have the cheapest possible product is being favored over the safety and livelihood of others. Not only are workers being paid barely enough to live, but they can suffer the devastating consequences of factories in disrepair collapsing in on them due to poor management (and, inevitably, lack of money). As the price of clothing decreases for us serial shoppers, the costs are being felt elsewhere.  

But we aren't seeing that. Or, maybe we are, but we don't care enough. Because these people live on the other side of the world, in a country and culture which we don't relate to. We are so blinded by ourselves, and at the sheer prospect of looking better for less, that we disconnect our actions from the effect that it has on others.  

Of course, this business model of "fast fashion" in a globalized world is completely broken- and it is up to the large fashion companies and the governments involved to collaborate to improve their standards. But this isn't going to happen without the consumers: the ones who encourage, better yet, demand, that their clothes be available at cheaper prices. 

As a lifestyle blogger myself, and one who reads "fashion" blogs on a regular basis, I often see this active encouragement of mass consumerism, where bloggers try to keep up appearances by buying a disposable wardrobe, and market this lifestyle of materialism to their readers. In fact, it is hardly ever that I see these young women re-wearing an item of clothing more than twice (or, shockingly, even more than once).

But the blogging world is only one part of the equation which perpetuates this toxic cycle. It is the everyday shopper at fast-fashion stores (think: Forever 21, H&M, Topshop among many others) that encourage, even enable, this exploitation of humans to go on.     

One of the more interesting points that the documentary made was that these stores made consumers "feel" wealthy by being able to offer them more clothes for less money. Thus, those of us who are struggling fiscally are able to psychologically have that feeling of satisfaction knowing that we can at least look like we have the next best thing. And the next. And the next, and so on until we end up with piles of clothes from seasons past that we don't plan on wearing anymore because that old trend is now a fad. 

It makes me angry furious to see that my peers buy clothes that they literally categorize as "throwaway" for going on nights out. It makes me frustrated to see that many people would rather buy six poorly constructed shirts at a cheap price rather than one well-made shirt, just because "more" is seen as "better". 

I realize that it's incredibly difficult to find stores and brands which pay their workers a proper wage. Often, their code of ethics is laden with language which skews any faults on their part. But, what you can do is simple: buy less. Do buy, do enjoy shopping, do follow fashion- but invest in higher quality items that will last you years and years so you won't have to replace it in a few months. 

And if you're feeling really socially responsible, there are a few brands that the documentary mentioned that are ethical all and all: People Tree and the more well-known Patagonia

While it may be hard to kick your shopping habit once and for all, it's important to think about what your dollar translates into in the long-run and make more informed choices rather than purely selfish ones. 

Just remember, everything- even the cheapest of dresses- has a cost. You just might not be seeing it.  

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