What is the ‘True Cost’ of Fashion?
One of the things we often see on Facebook and in our communications with our customers are questions about our pricing. Many consumers have been used to buying underwear and boxer briefs in multi-packs for $15-20 from their local mega store chain. They are surprised at our higher price point.
We take the time to explain why we need to charge more but our short answers could never really convey all that needs to be said about the true cost of cheap clothing. For this reason, we wanted to take a moment to inform as many as possible so that we can all make thoughtful decisions about what we wear and who is impacted by our choices.
We are fully aware that not everyone may choose to spend their hard-earned money on our clothing. We know that if we slapped our brand on a cheap pair of boxer-briefs made in an unsafe factory in a third-world country where people work under insufferable conditions, we could sell more and our profits would be greater. But as a brand, we stand for more than profit.
People are important to us. The environment is important to us. We value the health and safety of our planet and all of its inhabitants. We want workers to be paid fairly and for resources that are used in the manufacturing of our products to be handled responsibly. We want our customers to know that when they wear our brand, they are supporting all of these values, too. We ask you to join us in a more thoughtful way of consuming.
To get you started on your journey, we wanted to tell you about a new film was just released by director Andrew Morgan called “True Cost.” Morgan set out to expose exactly what goes into the global production of fast fashion, a cause he followed after seeing the devastation of the 2013 garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh (killing 1,129 workers and injuring 2,515). He investigated the effects of the disposable clothing industry. What he documented was disheartening, to say the least.
Included in his findings on his journey were dilapidated clothing factories full of hazards, entire villages polluted and suffering illness from toxic waste produced by the garment industry, rotting, moldy clothes overflowing from landfills and outcries from poor factory workers pleading for fair wages and safe conditions.
The mainstream media aren’t the only ones interested in Morgan’s film. A host of fashion leaders and celebrities including Anne Hathaway, Georgina Chapman and Tonne Goodman all spoke about their support of the film and making changes in the fashion industry.
We caught up with Andrew to talk to him about his film.
TomboyX: Why did you decide to do a film about fast fashion?
Andrew: It was getting coffee one morning. I picked up a copy of the New York Times and it had the story of the factory collapse in Rana Plaza. I remember standing there that morning looking at these photographs and reading the story and thinking to myself, ‘How is it possible that an industry as powerful and profitable do business in a way in our modern world that led to the loss of so much human life?’
Until that moment, I had never really thought about where my clothes came from before. That was a lightbulb moment for me to realize that growing up in middle class America, going to a mall or a store and buying clothes, I had honestly never considered the impact that my clothing choices were having.
I went back to the office that morning and shared the article with my producer and we spent the next week doing research. I called people around the world working in the fashion and garment industry. I was beginning to see that there was this unbelievable story here. I believed that it would be right to tell it. I knew it was a film that I wanted to make.
This isn’t like a business to business industry. This is where I get up and every single day, I get dressed. In that simple act, I am connected to something that ultimately connects very diverse and contrasting parts of the world. How has this story not been told? This seems like a natural next step of our evolution.
We hear about sweat shops and child labor but I don’t think the average American could tell you where these places are or what that actually looks like. What was it like to see these places first hand?
We did extensive research. I was familiar with what was taking place. I thought it would be just putting pieces together. When I started filming, however, I was caught off guard when I began to experience the human factor.
You can understand on paper why it’s problematic that huge portions of our world are working and earning less than a living wage. You can understand very theoretically that it will cause problems. But, man, when you sit beside the people, you realize these hard-working, loving moms and dads who care about their families – they’re people who are interested in a better future for their children – when you realize they’re working 80-90 hours a week and they’re making fundamentally less than it takes to live in the city’s poorest slums, that’s not just a problem on a society level. It becomes very heart-breaking. As a person and as a parent and a film-maker, the film totally changed my life.
Going in, I knew we wanted to address the environmental impact component. And frankly, I was concerned about the environmental impact portion because it’s a whole lot less emotional than the human rights. It’s often abstract because it’s like somewhere, sometime down the road, something is going to happen to the planet as a result of our choices. But it’s in the future. The work we did shooting in India with pesticides, some of the work we did in the leather tanneries dumping into the river… it was so shocking and life-changing to me to make the adjustment that environmental impact isn’t a far-off thing. It’s here.
The impact is being felt by human beings today. And it just so happens that they are typically the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Where you and I live, we’re very protected from those things. But that doesn’t mean it’s not taking a toll today. That just changed everything for me. What’s taking place around the world is something that we are very sheltered from. You know the words “child labor, human rights, pollution… but they’re kind of like page 7 columns. To suddenly see it and experience it, it was tough. And honestly, I’m still wrestling with it.
Was there ever a time when you thought, “I need a moment”?
When we were in India and we walked into several factories and there were children on the floor – like newborn babies on the floor - that was overwhelming to me. It was as hot as you would imagine, chemicals being used were burning my eyes and I was only in there for a very short time, people were walking around everywhere. Then, these newborn babies were lying on the floor next to their mothers who were working. The people showing us the factory didn’t really think anything of it. We were shocked but it was normal for them.
What do you hope that this film will accomplish?
Andrew: I hope that we can make this conversation about clothing a mainstream conversation over the next year. I think that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re still at an awareness-building stage. If you look at the ways ideas take hold in society, they have an arc. On that arc, we’re very much at the beginning.
I think that there is enormous potential power for this to go into mainstream dialogue. Right now, it’s the pioneers pushing for new models and new systems – folks like the team at TomboyX. I hope what the film can do is bring a tremendous wave of support to those folks who have already been in this trying to make the changes.
The exciting thing is that as the press is starting to pick up on this, and as we’re having these conversations, one of the coolest things is that we can constantly point to the fact that there are brands that are doing things well. They’re companies that are dedicated to making a product well and who take care of all the hearts and hands that touch the products along the way. That’s an inspiring thing but it’s also a reason why this shift in consciousness could accelerate things rather quickly. These businesses are proving that this can be done – I’m interested in shifting more support to those companies.
If we’re honest, fast fashion isn’t going to close up shop next year. But as these companies who are doing it right begin to get more of the market share, some of the larger businesses will sit up and take notice and begin to make adjustments. It’s similar to what happened in the food industry. You can now walk into a Wal-Mart and see organic food and free-range chickens but it started with pioneering, outlier type companies on the fringe. Those guys captured some of the market share, then the larger ones shifted. Together, they’re making a difference.
I tell everyone to pay attention to the companies who maybe aren’t the biggest now, to the companies like you who are on the fringe pushing this forward because they’re going to represent real leadership moving forward.
What can the average person do to affect change in reforming this broken system?
Coming from someone who never thought about any of this a few years ago to someone who has tried to be as thoughtful as I can with myself, with my kids – one of the first things I would tell someone is look at the amount of clothes that you’re bringing into your life. Evaluate how long is that clothing lasting you? How well is it serving you?
My experience was buying a lot of clothing at a really low price point so I felt really good about saving money. But it was cheaply made – engineered to be disposable. So within a year, I was replacing huge parts of my wardrobe. That has a huge cost. It feels good at the checkout counter, but it doesn’t last as long and you need to replace it with more cheaply made stuff.
Now I buy fewer things but because I buy less, I spend more on higher quality that will last longer. I invest in things that I really, really love. I buy things that I will wear and hold onto for a longer period of time. Financially, it makes so much more sense. It builds a sustainable wardrobe in both the short term and the long term.
It puts people back in clothes that they’re going to love. We should not stop loving fashion. We should really be more thoughtful about fashion being a beautiful expression that communicates who you are. I’d tell people to get off that treadmill of buying that junky stuff and build a smaller but better quality wardrobe. These can be vintage or used clothing or things from companies who are doing business in a way that align with our values. Buy what you love, not just what you like. And I predict that pretty soon, it’s not going to be cool to buy a shirt for $5.
There have been brands that have been doing things the right way but they haven’t been speaking out about it as much as they could. I am a big proponent of companies who are sourcing well, who are doing things responsibly. They should be proud of that and tell their story to people. You guys (TomboyX) should be proud of what you’re doing.