True Cost

True Cost. Who pays the price for our clothing?

A few years ago, our book club read the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashionby Elizabeth L. Kline. You can read ourdiscussion here. Spoiler: I never did take that class in sewing.

Nor did I do anything differentafter I read the book. I became concerned, researched my options, became overwhelmed, forgot about it.

That’s a lie. I didn’t forget about it because it remained in the back of my mind every time I bought a ridiculously cheap t-shirt, or every time my dad came over with a huge bag of clothing for the boys from Marshall’s. That hardly makes it okay. My inaction is as sinful as those who demand more and more from the backs of those who have nothing left to give. Maybe even more so, if those consumers who demand are clueless. If the “haul” youtube videos are a barometer for intelligence and social ethics then, yeah, pretty clueless.

True Cost, a documentary on the fashion industry, popped up on NetFlix as a recommendation. I watched it while folding clothing into origami. This documentaryis a must-see.

I don’t recall Overdresseddelving into the labor issues the way True Cost does.Overdressed painted a broad picture of the problems in the fashion industry while True Cost focuses almost solely on the labor and environmental injustices we commit with our dollars.

I’ve neverbeen a fan of fashion, and I’m sure my weight has something to do with my disdain. It’s easy to settle myself comfortably into my armchair and say “how vain, how shallow, how dumb” whenI worrysomeone will turn around and say “how fat.” Incidentally, worrying about someone thinking you’re fat is also vain, shallow, and dumb, but that’s an observation for another day. This goes beyond how one looks in soft pants and a mid-drift top. This is an issue of dignity and human rights and our failing stewardship of the planet.

All things I’m thinking about as I embark on my closet portion of the KonMari journey.

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  1. I watched True Cost in the theater a few months back…it was absolutely the thing that put an end to my forays through the women’s clothing section at Target! Having already become a Marie Kondo groupie and a dabbler in the whole capsule wardrobe thing, this movie helped cement my conviction that “less but better” was a permanent change I needed to make to the way our family dresses.

    Thanks for spreading the word!

    • Funny, I was going to write a post on capsule wardrobes for tomorrow! I hope you chime in with some help. I’m a total newb at this thing. 🙂

  2. I read that book and saw the movie. Another book on the subject – which I found dug deeper into the issues – is To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? by Lucy Siegle.

    It’s hard to watch, it’s hard to be informed but not be overwhelmed. It’s probably been four years since I read the first book and although I made more conscious decisions sometimes – I didn’t change my habits completely. Since seeing the movie and reading Siegle’s book, I’d say I’m like 80%. At least for my own stuff.

    My first step was just realizing that I needed to buy less. I don’t go to Target anymore – for anything – because it’s too tempting. Secondly, I stopped shopping at stores like J.Crew, Gap, Madewell, and Zara. It helped to unsubscribe to all their email campaigns so I wasn’t tempted by sales. Then I started stocking up on basics from Everlane. From there, I dabbled with a capsule wardrobe for about a year and realized I really needed even less than I thought. The capsule wardrobe didn’t work for me really – there was something about it that lead me to feel like I needed a “perfect set up” so I would shop to add things to my capsule and then not shop for a few months and then change my capsule and repeat the cycle.

    I tend to wear the same 10 things over and over again – when I’m not wearing yoga clothes as an excuse not to get dressed at all. I’ve started looking for American made brands – which I was shocked to find I could find at stores like Marshall’s and Nordstrom Rack. Brands like Splendid or Soft Joie. Yes, a bit more expensive than I would normally spend but since I was buying so much less….I felt okay with it. I found some other brands that fit with my lifestyle – Marine Layer being one of them.

    I’m much worse when shopping for my kids and husband. Everlane and Marine Layer tees work for him but the other stuff is trickier. For instance, we haven’t found a brand of American or ethically made dress shirts we like for him. I find the easiest way to shop for my girls (who are little and fit into anything) is to buy second hand from sites like Moxie Jean and Twice. I do the same thing for myself sometimes – if I know a brand/style fits, I feel better ordering second hand – often times, the clothes are new with tags, and not contributing to the production of more cheap clothing.

    Anyway, sorry that was a bit rambling. I had very little time but have SO much to say on this topic. Glad you watched the movie. I guess I wanted to make sure you knew that change can take time and I do think awareness is first step. Every time you second guess yourself and don’t buy something that is made using cheap labor, that’s a win. Those little choices can roll into something bigger.

    • So I just have to randomly say my husband is easier to do than me. There some rule that military uniforms have to be made in the USA so all his socks/under clothes etc are made here. Me? Ugh.

    • You’re not rambling. Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂 I’ll check out that book.

      I think I’d be the easiest to shop for, despite the size issues. For my husband, the business shirts will be an issue. I thought the boys’ clothing would be cost prohibitive, but now that you shared the tip on American made brands, I’m feeling more optimistic.

  3. Oh, crap. (Can I say that on your blog? I hope so. If not, let me know and I won’t again.) But, crap. I’ve been doing some back to school clothes shopping, and this issue has been at the back of my mind. I know just enough to know that I need to know more and change how I do things. I think I haven’t learned more because once I do, I won’t be able to shop the way I do. I don’t have a huge wardrobe and I’m not much into fashion and I already spurn most of Target and other sources of really cheap clothing. But I don’t know where to find ethically-produced stuff that I can afford and that fits. My body keeps changing on me (hello, 40s!), and I don’t really know how to dress it any more. (And I know that’s a first-world problem and can relate to the vain/shallow/dumb worries.)

    I love/hate it when someone puts something in front of me that I need and want but don’t-want to know. So, thanks?

    • Hah! You can say whatever you like. And you’re welcome. 😉

      I’m having the same trouble finding clothing that fits. I’m lucky in that volunteering in the library allows me to wear pretty comfortable clothing by necessity. I’m thinking I need to create a wardrobe of cotton leggings/pants and tunics–but in an Eileen Fisher way, you know what I mean? I learned last year that tight waistbands and heels are really, really stupid. You look cute at first, but I won’t do that to my back again.

  4. Wow, thank you for this Jules! This is one of those issues I too have successfully pushed to the back of my mind for years – never even got as far as you in terms of truly educating myself on the issue, because that would mean I’d have to act on it. Just carried around the rather vague knowledge that of course Target and others of that ilk are so cheap because of cheap labor, choosing not to dwell on what that really means in terms of individual lives. I’ll have to check out this video, but I’m thinking this is a win-win, because I can do the right thing and in doing so will in essence limit my clothing options – a good thing in my case, since I’m so terribly indecisive! I’ve never been a clotheshorse (for the same reasons as you), but I hope I too will find that I need even less than I think I do. I’ve already bookmarked the home pages of some of the retailer suggestions in the comments.

  5. I’m another who has been carrying the knowledge around and acting on it rather sporadically. I do have quite a lot of second hand clothing, and some ethical things and I do feel better wearing them. I don’t follow fashion closely (I have friends who would probably say ‘at all’), partly through a fear of getting it wrong. If I don’t look like I’m trying too hard, that somehow makes it better. I don’t know; it makes sense to my subconscious! Maybe I’m still fourteen in my head…

    Anyway, whilst researching Konmari, lots of stuff about Project 333 and other capsule wardrobes has come up. I don’t have a huge amount of clothes, but I have more than 33. I do like the idea of a simple wardrobe where things can be mixed and matched although I don’t think I could wear the same top everyday a la Steve Jobs, no matter how much decision fatigue I feel.

    I also don’t suit black or white which seem to be integral colours in most example capsule wardrobes. (Remember Colour me Beautiful? My flatmate was very into that when I was a student and I’m an Autumn although sadly without the gorgeous red hair)
    Reading about it has been very thought provoking and I’ll be interested to read your take on it.

  6. I should watch this. And then do more. I hate, though, that our options for change seem to revolve around how we spend our money. It’s a start, I guess. I read overdressed, signed up for a sewing class that was cancelled, didn’t buy clothes for awhile unless they were secondhand, and then shrugged my shoulders. I can shop differently, but the enormousness it all makes me freeze. And change is hard. Prolly should delete my zullily app that just gave me a “time to shop!” notification.

  7. Great post. I used to do business with the usual suspects– Wal-Mart, Target, Old Navy– but the gnawing guilt and spiritual conviction grew to the point where I finally drew a difficult ethical conclusion: the only thing standing in the way of social progress in the clothing industry is me, and the cash I am holding in my wallet. It’s been a couple of years since I went ‘off grid’ and now rather than being a pain, it’s a fun hobby to find ethically sourced product. Thanks for this post. I find all your posts very insightful.

    • I agree with what you say. I have made it a fun hobby to find ethically sourced clothing. I shop secondhand and if I don’t love it I don’t buy it.

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