The True Cost
I’ll bet your wardrobe is pretty impressive. You’ve got a closet full of shirts on hangers. You’ve got multiple drawers full of clothes. You’ve got piles of old clothes you hardly wear anymore but you haven’t quite gotten around to giving away or throwing out.
Our society has an unnecessary abundance of clothing.
Just about everyone reading this newspaper has enough clothing to wear a different outfit every day this week. And if you can’t, there’s a decent chance that that is because you have recently gained or lost a significant amount of weight and you can’t fit into most of your old clothes anymore.
That is a decadent new luxury that would be completely alien to an American living just 100 years ago. We now have the freedom to gain fifty pounds and buy a whole new wardrobe while going into only a moderate amount of credit card debt.
Almost all of the clothing in 1960 we wore was made in America. Now, 97% our new garments are manufactured overseas.
The cause is obvious: globalization. The effect is obvious: cheaper and more abundant clothing. According to this documentary, “The True Cost” of this deluge of imported apparel is steep and disturbing.
Director Andrew Morgan spends almost the entire film overwhelming us with horror stories about the effects of the 21st Century fashion industry.
He tells us about the problems that we already know: the exploited factory laborers working miserable jobs for less than $1 an hour and the rickety Third World sweat shops where fires and building collapses kill hundreds every year.
And he informs us about the problems that I didn’t know. Apparently, the fashion industry is a hideous menace to the environment. “The True Cost” shows us that Ganges River in India has become a chemical-ridden sewer due to Chromium-spewing tanneries. It shows us that the rising demand for cheap cotton has turned farms into carcinogenic pesticide factories. The film is relentlessly dark and depressing.
Well, Mr. Morgan, I’m convinced: the current state of the fashion business is dreadful. What can we do to fix the problems?
This is where “The True Cost” comes up short. Morgan argues that the entire system of consumerism, materialism, and corporate capitalism needs to be overthrown. But he isn’t brave enough to suggest how. Or to propose what he thinks the system should be replaced with.
I don’t think we need a revolution. All we need is a little forced restraint.
We should find out how much it costs to create and sell an item of clothing in the United States while paying workers a living wage and giving basic respect to the environment. Then place an import tariff on the same item of clothing that is currently produced in the Third World so that the imported product is equally expensive.
The only negative consequence is that clothing will be twice the price. We might only be able to buy one more shirt next shopping trip instead of two. Look at your overflowing closet and drawers again. It really wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice.