We recently watched a documentary called The True Cost. It digs into the financial, societal, and environmental costs of the fashion industry and provides an eye-opening account of the lives of garment workers around the world. The film did a tremendous job illustrating how much waste is generated by the fashion industry, especially in the last 20 years with the advent of fast-fashion brands like H&M, Forever 21, LOFT, and Old Navy. As we incorporate minimalism into our daily lives, we want to re-evaluate things we previously took for granted and try to understand their impact. This documentary allowed us to see fashion in a totally different light.
The True Cost of Donated Clothing
We had no idea that the average American generates 80 pounds of textile waste each year, most of which is donated to charity. The Council for Textile Recycling says that only 10-20% of donated clothing is re-sold in thrift stores. The other 80% of clothes is exported or recycled. Some clothing is recycled for cleaning rags and post-consumer fiber. What happens to the exported clothing? We assume that it gets sent to people in developing countries who need it. The documentary reveals that exported clothing is still dumped into landfills or re-sold in bulk for practically nothing. Just 30 years ago, used clothing had value because it was expensive to produce. Now used clothing is worthless. We can make clothes for pennies – at the expense of real people and their families.
It’s easy to fall for flash sales and low prices, but that $10 t-shirt allows companies to exploit workers and destroy natural resources. Communities suffer cancer, disease, and inhabitable living conditions due to chemical byproducts of dyes, leather tanning, and synthetic fibers. We buy cheap clothes to save money. In doing so, we are supporting an industry that does not value the human and environmental cost of its products. Few other industries have complete disregard for the true cost of their products. If we shop intentionally and focus on transparency over convenience, we can end horrific suffering. A $10 t-shirt may cost $30, but that extra cost will save millions of lives.
After our closet clean-out, we tried to donate to organizations that give clothing to people who need it, not to landfills. We learned that it’s difficult to find reputable organizations that re-use donated clothing responsibly. Unfortunately, all we can do is continue to donate and hope someone will find use in it. But we can learn from our mistakes. We can replace our worthless fast-fashion with sustainable brands that consider the impact of their materials and labor. Our clothes will last longer and we will get more value for the cost. In the end, we spend less money on worthless clothing and build a wardrobe of quality staples by companies that care about improving the fashion industry.
Which Sustainable Brands Should We Buy?
The documentary provides a list of reputable brands that promote fair trade and sustainability. We also have brands we trust for their commitment to transparency and quality. Some are made in the USA, while others use vetted factories and suppliers. These are our recommendations based on our personal experiences:
- Everlane: This brand is popular with fashion bloggers and conscious consumers alike because of its high-quality, staple pieces at mid-range prices. What makes Everlane unique is that the company documents the exact production cost and the price markup so customers understand the true cost of its clothing. We plan to replace our t-shirts, sweaters, and bags with clothing from this brand.
- Paige Denim: We both have pairs of Paige jeans and we love the fit and quality. The jeans are made in Los Angeles, but there is little information about the company’s material sourcing. Regardless, these jeans are a step above the cheap pairs in our closet.
- Patagonia: This company was a leading proponent of fair-trade and sustainable production. The clothing is built to last, and the outdoor gear is rated as one of the best. We’re willing to invest in activewear for hiking and camping that will get years of use.
- Best Made Company: We have gotten phenomenal leather goods and household items from Best Made Co. The company is renowned for its axes and camping gear, but it also features clothing and accessories made by artisans that share its commitment to quality and craftsmanship.
- Prana: Mr. Rustic Walks found shorts from Prana that are the best shorts ever made (his words, obviously). The company makes activewear for hiking and yoga from hand-picked manufacturers and recycled materials.
Do you know any sustainable brands? What changes are you making in your wardrobe or around the house to create a more sustainable lifestyle?
Note: We are not affiliated with these brands or companies. Our views reflect our own purchases, and we were not compensated for these reviews.
~ Ms. RW