A truthful response to The True Cost documentary

The True Cost documentary reminds me that we are inextricably linked to the environment. Everything that we use, produce and consume is a product of the environment, making us accountable for what products we choose to endorse and the lifestyle that those choices reflect. This is something so fundamental that it seems so obvious after watching the true cost but it’s something that resonated so deeply with me that I needed reminding of it.

We are so removed from the components that make up the final products we see and buy that we don’t always realize the consequences of our consumer choices. We, the consumers, are the power behind the market and although ‘demand’ seems like an intangible thing, we can control it. However, when we stop and think, who really is driving our decisions and our demand? Is it us and what we want?

The True Cost is an in-depth look at how, why and what we choose to consume. Having watched it, I began to question why I even liked the clothes in my wardrobe. Is it because they were marketed to my demographic via an Instagram algorithm? Is it because self-esteem is so image-driven that the clothes I buy are based on marketing campaigns promising to make me look and feel a million dollars? Or is it because I know what I like and I chose these items independently from all the invisible factors that push us towards certain consumption decisions?

 A key message in The True Cost emphasizes the power of ‘trends’ and ‘fads’ as smart marketing campaigns that promise to change your life through your image. We all understand marketing. We get that a new shampoo or a new cut of jeans won’t change our lives, and yet it wasn’t until it was spelled out to me that this type of advertising lost its power over me and my decisions as a consumer. Behind all that advertising is a system that encourages us to constantly want to change our image and to improve our lives through a culture of consumerism.

This culture is detrimental to the environment. New trends are churned out on a conveyor belt 52 weeks a year, with last week’s trend going into landfill as the next trend comes hurtling off the catwalk and into shops. The True Cost highlights the lack of accountability we take as consumers, simply through ignorance about our power as consumers to demand better. The final product which we choose to buy is part of a value chain and where we decide to spend our money fuels that chain.

 I have been so far removed from the origin of the final product that I never questioned or considered where it might come from. The clothes in our wardrobes have passed through the hands of low-paid workers, manufacturing products in dangerous environments with no power to change their circumstances as there is always a cheaper, quieter, more docile labour supply in another country or at another factory. When we are finished with that season’s clothes, the consequences of the environmentally unsustainable practice of sending clothes to landfill (the only way to dispose of cloth) will affect those that made our clothing most severely and more immediately then it will affect any of us, the consumers.

Many of us give to charities and volunteer but a very simple, powerful and meaningful approach is to ask: “what we are supporting and who we are supporting?” every time we spend our money on material goods. Our demand fuels the market. Informed consumers can reclaim power as consumers to demand better.

We can reclaim our power as individuals and express ourselves through our clothing by saying no to fast fashion and trends, through borrowing from each other or shopping second hand. We have the power to use our resources and our privilege as consumers to ensure that the environment and other people are not adversely affected by our choices. Money talks. Next time we shop, think: what will your money say about you?

Cliodhna ReidyComment