Luke Swanson, co-founder of Tripty, a slow fashion brand, has organized multiple screenings of True Cost and reflects on the film as well as his experience in Bangladesh after Rana Plaza.

About a decade ago I saw a film that changed my outlook on the food industry and the way I viewed mass agriculture systems, how I shopped at a grocery store and what I put in my body. True Cost has the potential to do for Fast Fashion what Food Inc and Forks Over Knives has done to the Fast Food industry. The film offers a both personal and sweeping narrative of the fashion industry. Through showcasing case studies from the leather industry in India, Cotton Farms in Texas and exploitive factories in Bangladesh and Cambodia, it becomes clear that we are not actually paying the “true cost” of our garments.

The film moved me, even though I have been exposed to these issues many times.  I was living in Bangladesh when Rana Plaza collapsed, a devastating experience which impacted my view of the world on many levels.

The destruction caused by the Rana Plaza collapse may have felt like an explosion of violence from the media frenzy that ensued, but on the ground, it was more like a tidal wave that built and built over months while constantly breaking in a frenzied, scattered manner.  People were initially shocked and terrified as the death count rose.  But over the following months, as it was clear that the victims were going to be ignored and that the garment industry would continue doing business as usual, workers from all across the industry lashed out with increasing fury.  What ensued were riots and wanton destruction of anything that could be smashed or burned; the sheer frustration was almost palpable in the very air we breathed.

This destruction was quickly decried as pointless mob violence, both locally and internationally. Nevertheless, to quote Dr. King, “rioting is the language of the unheard”.  It is doubtful that anyone is more ignored than the garment makers of Bangladesh.

After watching the film, so many people I spoke to were stunned and asked, “Where do we go from here?” There are a great many things one can do to change the industry and negate your personal impact. Here are six ideas:

  1. Ask:  “Who Made My Clothes?” Questioning is an empowering act.  If enough of us asked, brands would be more transparent.
  2. Support Fair Trade: Cradle to Cradle recently began it’s Fashion Positive initiative which certifies companies that have environmentally responsible production, while also putting in place systems to recapture garments at the end of their life cycle.
  3. Reward brands that match your values: People Tree is doing amazing work in Fair Trade around the world and Reformation is making trendy, chic clothing from waste material while also putting recycling programs in place for your used or dated outfits.
  4. Shop second hand:  It’s one of the best ways to save clothes from a landfill while offering a solution to rampant consumerism.
  5. Wash less often: As Joan Crawford said, “Care for your clothes, like the good friends they are.”  Washing is hard on your garments.  Save and savor those outfits as you grow into them and they become a part of your ‘chosen skin’.
  6. Activate your inner policy wonk: Ask your local, state and federal government to enact policy changes that require the same safe, healthy, well-paying working conditions for international productions that we demand domestically.  Currently, there are no legally binding standards for production overseas.

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