The True Cost of Fashion Gluttony

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Have you guys seen the documentary The True Cost? It’s on Netflix. I watched it last night.

The film vividly highlights the global effects of a fashion industry on meth – an industry that pushes fast fashion with a furious fervor for more: more clothes, more stores, more stuff, more profits. Though it is often repetitive and redundant in making its point, the film’s point is an inconvenient and albeit important one.

Aside from the obvious (or maybe not so obvious) inside look into the horrible and often fatal working conditions of the people who make our clothes, it really is an uncomfortable look in the mirror at our voracious consumer appetites.

In brief, the movie left me infuriated and feeling a little guilty, quite frankly. When I see a movie like this, I reflexively ask myself what I can do, even on my own small personal scale at the very least. As I wrote in an earlier post about living better with less, I already keep things on a pretty lean scale. But even then, I’m always thinking about ways I can pare down even more. Do I need 20 suits or 20 pairs of shoes or 20 dress shirts? No. Do I need 8 pairs of jeans? Absolutely not. Do I need 100 ties? I’d probably only rotate 15 of them. As of this writing, I have a collection of 16 suits in my armoire, including 4 seasonal suits and 2 tuxedos. Jeans? I have three pairs. I could easily pare that down to 10 suits (including the tuxedos) and two pairs of jeans.

But there is always pressure to have more. More to have status, more to be liked and loved, more to be happy. I’ve been on both sides of the more vs. less scale, and I’m wise and experienced enough to know that more doesn’t bring happiness. My personal life editing skills get more refined and discerning with each year.

I will always be an advocate for the pursuing sartorial stealth and effective living as a self-made thousandaire, but I am also open to a conscious and conscientious re-examination of my definition of a “good deal.” My Alden chukka boots and my new custom bicycle from Heritage Bicycles were serious investments for me. Not cheap in the money sense. However, they were fantastic deals. The shoes were made in Massachusetts and the bicycle was built in Chicago, both with real care and skill by craftspeople who earn a fair wage. The workers earned good pay, the companies earned their profit and I got superlative products that will last longer than I will. Everybody won.

I don’t always shop like that. Though I haven’t been in H&M for years and refuse to step foot in Topshop, Zara, Jos. A. Bank and the like, I have often pulled the trigger on what felt like great deals all for the sake of scratching the “get more for less” itch. But the truth is… if a t-shirt is $5, a pair of dress shoes is $100 or a suit is $150, someone is getting hurt (and the garment is probably crap). I can choose to look the other way for the sake of my own comfort, or I can stop.

This is hardly about advocating luxury goods or other expensive things as “better” just because they’re not cheap. No way. This is about assessing my real values and looking at things for the long game, just like I did with my Aldens and my custom bike. As a consumer, I have tremendous power. It is to my benefit and to the benefit of many others in the trickle-down that I use that power wisely, consciously and conscientiously.

If you haven’t seen The True Cost, do it. (And if you have seen it, let me know what you think!) Much of the content is not news to anyone who’s been paying attention to fashion for the past 10 years or so, but at the end of the day, it’s a real eye-opener.

The (r)evolution continues.

Further reading…

“More Materialism, Less Consumerism” by Simon Crompton (Permanent Style)
“The Case for Fewer – but Better – Clothes” by Keila Tyner (Quartz)


1 Comment

  1. Hey G, haven’t seen the movie but if your article is enough to go on, I have to say that we can still be socially conscious and live frugally. Seeking out quality made in the US products or companies that have social accountability isn’t easy but it can be done.

    Companies like Apolis and Everlane come to mind. They aren’t the cheapest chinos, t-shirts, etc. they are still very much within the realm of frugal (when compared with fashion labels) and they care about the transparency of the manufacturing process.

    Thanks for sharing!

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