What to do After The True Cost | Part 1: Don’t Throw That Out!

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So, you watched the True Cost fashion documentary (also available on Netflix!)*. Now what? You’re probably disheartened and quite a bit disgusted by the inside look at the lives and working conditions of the people who make our clothes and you either want to immediately get rid of all the things in your closet that may have been made under questionable ethical circumstances or never shop fast fashion again.

But hold on a minute.

I understand the impulse to purge and start anew, fresh, with a more sustainable mindset, but is tossing things you wear (and maybe love?) only to replace them REALLY sustainable or eco-friendly? No. No. No.

It’s wasteful. And the truth is, you can make your closet more conscious and your wardrobe more sustainable without spending much money, or getting rid of everything.  You can have a conscious closet by simply continuing to wear what you have, keeping only what you love, and taking care of your clothes.

If you have items in your closet that you love and wear, that might have been produced in Bangladesh, or Cambodia, keep wearing them!  You may be conflicted about that, I get it, but you already own them; take care of them, and make them last as long as you can.   Enjoy and wear those items and you will be honoring the women who made them.

When we just toss things aside that may not fit our lifestyle or evolving ethics, throwing them away, or blindly donating them, we devalue the work the (mostly) women put into creating those garments. And above all, don’t we want to honor their sacrifices? They need to work to support their families, their children, and often this is better work for them than the other options in their communities. They work hard so we can clothe ourselves, don’t they deserve the respect and honor of our actually wearing and taking care of the clothes they make?

I think so. It is the ultimate insult to buy something at H&M or Forever21 and wear it once, tossing it away as soon as it no longer suits us. I don’t want to tell the woman who lost her legs in a building collapse in Bangladesh that I bought something she made because it was cheap, but I never wore it, so I threw it in the garbage…

For items you just can’t enjoy anymore, and that are still in wearable shape, I recommend giving  those pieces to family or friends, who you know will appreciate and WEAR them. I always do that first, but if you’ve exhausted that, and still want to get rid of things, maybe choose to donate directly to a women’s shelter? or if they’re work clothes, Dress for Success? Have a garage sale, even, that way you can see who will be wearing and appreciating your clothes.

When it comes to donating, as you may have seen in the True Cost, even though clothing is donated, not all of it actually goes to the people you think it does, or even stays in your community. Indeed, most of the donated clothing gets exported and has a negative impact on local economies.  And  a lot of it ends up in landfills anyway, it just uses up even more energy and creates more environmental waste getting there than it would have if you had just thrown it away in the first place.

But contrary to popular belief, not all “fast fashion” or items you might find at Zara, H&M or Forever21 has to be “disposable.”  A lot of it is made of cheap materials, and in a haphazard way, and will literally start to fall apart after a few washes/wears, but many pieces are cotton, and more substantial, and will last quite a long time if cared for correctly (washing in cold water and hanging to dry is always a good way to extend the life of your clothes, as is not washing something every time you wear it).

Perhaps you no longer want to consume fast fashion after watching the True Cost, but if your goal is to have a more conscious closet, then I would just encourage you to first, start with using and appreciating what you have.  Use what you have, enjoy it, wear it, appreciate it and then when you can no longer enjoy it, thank it (a la Marie Kondo!) and let it go on its way.  When you do have to replace something, use that as an opportunity to do better.

But more on that in part 2:  Is boycotting fast fashion really the answer??

What are your thoughts? Have you seen the True Cost? What did you decide to do afterwards? How has it changed your consumption habits?

*if you haven’t seen The True Cost yet, I highly recommend it.  Please see my review on Grechen’s Closet for a pretty comprehensive look at the issues it raised!

**and after this, if you’re interested in getting your closet more conscious, but don’t know where to start, perhaps I can help? Just contact me for a free initial consultation!