The True Cost – Why I Support Slow Fashion

A couple of weekends ago I sat down to watch a documentary that I’d wanted to see for a while called The True Cost. This enlightening look at the cost of fast fashion on the world is definitely something I would recommend everyone watch. I thought I knew a fair amount about high street fashion and how it was produced but this really opened my eyes.

I consciously make my own clothes, choosing natural fibres over manmade ones as much as possible, and very rarely buy anything, not just clothes, from high street shops. Anything I do buy is either vintage, secondhand, is from an ethically-minded company, or has been handmade. It’s a shift I made about three years ago and, having watched this film now, I’m really glad I did.

The documentary was originally paid for by 900 amazing strangers who invested in a Kickstarter project. It took 2.5 years to come together and was finally released in April 2015, where it debuted at Cannes. I may be a little late to the party with this one, but I was alerted to it by a friend who’d spotted it on Netflix. She also took a decision about a year ago to stop buying on the high street and knew I’d be interested.

I won’t go into it in depth here because I encourage everyone to watch it, however, there were a lot of interesting facts in the film, some I already knew and some I didn’t. Some of the most startling ones are listed below.

  • In the 1960s 95% of clothing bought in the US was made in the US. This is now down to just 3%. (UK stats for clothing on its own is hard to find).
  • The clothing industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. Oil is the first.
  • Only 10% of clothing that’s donated to charity ends up in thrift stores in the US. (This is closer to 30% in the UK according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap))
  • In the third world, where most fast fashion is produced, one cotton farmer takes their own life every 30 minutes!

One of the most poignant moments for me was a small sequence where it had clips of fashion vloggers showing off their latest massive clothing hauls, interspersed with clips showing women in third world countries labouring away in terrible conditions to produce these clothes. At one point a vlogger says something like, “I don’t know why I bought this, I don’t even like it!”.

One thing I was surprised the film didn’t touch on was the impact of polyester and other synthetic fibres in fabrics on the planet. Fabrics made from these fibres are used most commonly in cheap fast fashion for their cost and because they wash well and don’t need ironing. However, polyester requires more than double the energy of conventional cotton to produce, so the carbon footprint is enormous.

Not only that, polyester is not bio-degradable and therefore will remain within the environment even after the fabric has broken apart. In fact, synthetic fabrics are believed to be the world’s biggest source of microplastic pollution in our oceans due to 1900 fibres being washed off one garment every time it is washed. This is exactly the reason I opt for natural fibres as much as I can.

I actually had this film on whilst working on the dress in my previous post, although there was more watching than sewing going on! And although I was actually making my own clothes, rather than buying them, I started feeling a little uneasy about the fabrics I was using. Where had they been produced? Who had been involved in the process? What chemicals had been used? Okay, so they were both 100% cotton, and not a synthetic fabric, but even that is incredibly harmful to both people and the environment if it’s not produced organically and/or ethically.

And don’t even get me started on the yarn for my crochet projects! Again I try to use natural fibres but all the same questions apply. Crochet cotton thread is not the easiest of things to get hold of in the UK, so which ones have the best ethical practices. Who knows and who do you ask?

Organic & Ethically Produced Fabrics

Having done a bit of research I have found a number of companies who produce organic and/or ethically manufactured fabrics. I’ve listed them below for my reference as much as for yours. I’ve tried to include as many UK based ones as possible, so that for anyone based in the UK (as I am) this will keep the carbon footprint down.

  • Organic Textile Company – a wide range of fabrics, including cotton, silk, linen, wool and bamboo, produced without chemicals in India, Turkey and China.
  • Offset Warehouse – ethically produced cottons, silk, bamboo and recycled polyester! They also offer a service to send them your unwanted fabrics and they will resell them!
  • Birch Fabrics – US based company who produce 100% organic cottons printed using low impact dyes to create a truly whimsical collection. Great for novelty print fans and available worldwide.
  • Ray Stitch – a wide range of fabrics, mostly organic or ethically produced but it’s best to check the details on each fabric.
  • Fabric Treasury – ethically made and sourced fine natural fabrics, including peace silk. Also produce natural dyes for using with their undyed fabrics. Based in India.
  • Cloth House – natural fabrics produced without using harmful chemicals sourced from local textile traders and artisans. Based in London, they do mail order but  there’s no online shop.

Organic Cotton Textiles samples

Organic cotton gingham samples I recently ordered from Organic Cotton Textiles

Organic & Ethically Produced Yarns

As I suspected with crochet cotton thread, this is impossible to get in an organic cotton. I found a weaving supplier that sold an organic cotton thread, but after having a chat with a very helpful lady there, we came to the conclusion that they were more like a size 40 or smaller crochet thread, which is incredibly thin. I tend to use size 5 or size 10 thread for most of my projects, if I’m not using yarn.

UK based wool production, on the other hand, seems to be flourishing right now and there are many independent companies producing yarn from British bred sheep and alpacas. I have listed a handful below, chosen because they have 4ply or lighter yarns perfect for vintage crocheting, but there are many, many more.

  • Tamarisk Farm – a small selection of undyed wools from Dorset Down, Hebridean, Jacob and Shetland sheep. Organic 4 ply, DK, Aran and Chunky are all available in natural colours.
  • Border Leicester Sheep Breeders – beautifully smooth 4 ply and DK wool available directly from the sheep breeders. A good range of colours that have quite a vintage vibe.
  • Yarn Yarn – ethically produced yarns made by hand in India. Very unusual silk and banana based yarns, as well as organic and recycled ones. I highly recommend reading their yarn journey article.
  • Town End Yarns – yarn produced with UK based Alpaca fibre in a wide variety of weights, including 4 ply and 2 ply.
  • Eden Cottage Yarns – a good range of hand dyed, mostly natural, yarns in really beautiful, vintage looking colours. Available in lace weight up to chunky.
  • Knit With Attitude – specialise in ethical and eco-friendly yarn and carry a wide range, including Susan Crawford Vintage 2 ply

Ethically Produced Vintage Style Clothing

And I couldn’t leave out vintage style clothing! All the companies I’ve listed below are UK based again and, although there are many more out there, I ‘ve stuck to those I know have a good reputation or I have bought from myself.

  • People Tree (featured in the film) –  beautifully made clothes, some of which have a vintage vibe. All produced with a 100% Fair Trade guarantee.
  • The House of Foxy – all clothing is produced locally within the UK with styles from the 1920s – 1960s
  • Vivien of Holloway – 1940s and 1950s style clothing is produced locally within the UK
  • Heyday! – use small manufacturers based in the UK and New Zealand (where they’re originally from) and source off-cuts and fabric remnants so they don’t go to waste. Style from the 1930s to the 1950s.
  • British Retro – all clothing is produced locally in one of the oldest established factories in the East End of London and all fabrics & trimmings are sourced within the UK
  • Love Her Madly – The coolest 1960s Mod dresses all handmade in the UK
  • Helen Moore – produce stunning faux fur accessories, some with a vintage vibe, designed and made in Devon, UK. They strongly support British manufacturing and I highly recommend reading their article about it.

Further Reading

I could talk on this subject for days, however, as I’ve said above, I encourage you to watch the film if you want to learn more. And for further reading material, please have a look at the following articles.

Cate

Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. Lover of all things old, lingerie obsessive, crafter and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.

20 Comments

  1. I will follow your links. This is a subject close to my heart too.
    I have been looking at Fashion Revolution’s online course but I think I just need to start investigating more closely. Bras and running kit are my weak links.

    • I actually thought of you and your garden dying projects when I wrote this! Yes, bras are my downfall too. They absolutely terrify me and I can never get a bought one to fit, so think I have no chance of actually making one that does! xx

  2. It is shocking that the fashion industry gets away with the atrocities that go on. And that it is so out in the open and know by the world is disgusting. I am careful where I buy my clothes and try to either make my clothes, buy vintage or support small, independent makers. I haven’t watched this film, I think I would need to work my way up to watching it, I’m sure it’s not an easy watch.

    • I know what you mean, the public are aware of the conditions that people work in to produce extremely cheap clothes but they just don’t seem to care. They seem to think their need to have the latest fashions is much more important than someones struggle to survive in a truly harsh place. It makes me so mad! xx

  3. I look forward to seeing this Cate, I’m very interested in this topic. One of the things that really bothers me is that there is no one single ethical standard against which companies are measured. So, for me to look up how ethical a company is I have to reference about 5 different websites, with a lot of the data being out of date. There’s also a lot of taking a company’s word for it (it’s great when companies say that they manufacture in the UK, but do they pay a living wage? Do they source notions from inside the UK too? What safety certificates do their factories have?). SUCH a big topic, I have so many more thoughts that I would like to discuss.

    x

    P.S. On a tangent, purely because mental health is a topic close to my heart, I just want to mention that it’s no longer correct to say “committed suicide”. Suicide stopped being a crime in the 1960s, and some people are offended by this term. Now it’s best to err on the side of caution and say something like “took their own life”.

    • I know, it’s huge. I could’ve kept typing for weeks about the subject but knew people would just switch off if I rambled on too long. I know what you mean about taking a company’s word for it. There’s a yarn company called Drops who use natural fibres but their prices are unbelievably cheap and I can’t help but think there’s a catch. Their explanation of why it’s cheaper than most is so vague!

      Thank you for pointing that out to me. The term was actually used in the film, and a couple of articles I read about it, so it was the term my mind was focused on. I’ve changed it now. xx

      • Thank you so much for changing the wording!! I really appreciate your understanding.

        I think I’ll have to do a post on ethics at some point, because like you say, you could keep typing on this one!! Maybe bitesize pieces… xx

  4. I haven’t watched this one yet, but I’ve read ‘Wardrobe Crisis: How We Went From Sunday Best to Fast Fashion’ which covers very similar topics. I recently finished ‘Women in clothes’ and there were two stories that stuck with me the most. One was an interview/story with a woman who survived the Rana plaza collapse and the other was a garment worker from Asia who worked in bra making. Of course as a sewist, I’m now wondering where and how all our fabric is made and dyed…..

    • Yes, this documentary includes someone from the Rana plaza collapse as well; I wonder if it was the same lady. It’s such a massive rabbit hole when you start thinking about the materials you use for sewing. What about the thread or the buttons or the zip? Where and how were they made? I do try to buy as many vintage notions as I can to get around this, but also because they’re so much better in terms of quality. xx

  5. I watched the film last year and had to watch it in 2 parts I found it so intense – I had forgotten the bloggers comment until you mentioned it there – it really is a worthy film. I did a small online (free) course just these last few weeks with future learn in conjunction with Fashion Revolution which touched on these topics and like you – after a while it wasnt the garments that preyed on my mind, but the types of fabrics, the dying process and the amount of shipping and wrapping (I worked in clothing retail and the amount of double and treble bagging that the clothes arrive in….)I am now thinking if people considered purchases more, they would appreciate more, and potentially wear for longer, but really the speed of production and consumption has to slow to a halt or something…off to read some of your links now as I had not come across some! thank you

    • I know what you mean, people don’t respect material things anymore. If something breaks they instantly replace it, rather than repair it, and it’s such a vicious cycle. People need to stop obsessing about getting the latest fashions, latest gadgets and etc. and just appreciate what they have. xx

  6. That’s quite an interesting documentary, Cate. Fast fashion (or indeed fast anything) is so vile, which people do not realize enough. I too hardly buy anything on the high street, but I’m guilty as charged when it comes to polyester. At least, it is pre-loved polyester, which I prevent from ending up in landfills, so there 😉 xxx

    • I did think of you when I mentioned polyester but I know just about everything you buy is vintage or secondhand, so I have no problem with it. I know that you donate any pieces you don’t want to charity shops too, rather than just throwing them away. Also, I can imagine polyester from yesteryear is much better quality than it is today (it certainly feels it!) and so the garments last longer and possible don’t shed as many fibres as modern stuff when washing (although that’s just a guess!). xx

  7. This topic is so close to my heart too. I read a few books on the subject and then watched the documentary a couple of years ago- and my eyes were opened wide. Thank-you for this resource list- even though I am in Canada and won’t be able to take advantage of many of them, it is great that you are spreading the word!

    • Thanks Nicole! I was so amazed at how little I actually knew after watching this film. I will definitely be more careful in my fabric and yarn choices going forward. x

  8. I must watch this, it sounds very interesting and thought provoking. I like to think that not buying many new clothes, making your own clothes and using vintage fabric/yarn/notions must all help a little at least. Thanks for the links, I will take a look.

    • Thanks Kate-Em! I will definitely be more considerate in the future when choosing new fabric or haberdashery buts and pieces though after watching this. It really did open my eyes to a lot of harmful production techniques I wasn’t aware of. xx

  9. Thanks so much for the links! I’m going to check them out! I watched the documentary a few weeks ago with my husband and agree whole heartedly that everyone should watch it. I’ve been recommending it to family ever since I saw it! I knew a bit about the horrors of fast fashion and sweat shops prior to watching it but boy did the documentary ever open my eyes to a lot more! I haven’t bought any clothing since I started teaching myself to sew just over a year ago, and watching this documentary just made me even more committed to staying away from fast fashion. I stay away from synthetic fabrics as much as possible too, polyester in particular is just so horrendous, thank you for the lesson on just how horrible it is for the environment, I was unaware! Now I’m glad I always hated the feeling of it against my skin, so stayed well away!

    Thank you so much for this post!

    • It’s such an amazing film, isn’t it? So many people are just totally oblivious to both the human and environmental cost to the clothes they buy. Enjoy looking through the links, I hope you find something useful for you . xx

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