"The True Cost" Screening with Fashion Revolution Winnipeg

On Friday, November 16, 2018, “The True Cost“, a documentary that looks at the human side of the fast fashion industry, was screened at the Kinship Studio in the exchange. After the film, Elise, the woman behind the Winnipeg chapter of Fashion Revolution, Ashley, the owner of Azura Bay an ethical lingerie company, and I had the opportunity to talk about our takeaways from this powerful film to a room full of curious and heartbroken fashion revolutionaries.

A few of the people there had just seen this film for the first time were overwhelmed with all the information it presented about factory conditions, big business bottom lines and the ability for Western consumers to make a change. It’s uncomfortable to question our own consumption habits. Not everyone can invest in ethically made clothing, but all of us have the opportunity to contribute in our own way. The dirty truth about the fashion industry is that it’s made to keep us addicted to buying clothes. Weekly deliveries of new items. One day sales everyday. It’s the rush of consumption that feels like success.

What so many of us are still learning is that in the supply chain of clothing, there are a lot of fixed prices, and one of the only ways to get that shirt cheaper is to squeeze the workers. There’s a reason why companies use factories in Bangladesh, and it’s not because Bangladesh has such amazing workers’ rights. Given the climate currently in Canada with Canada Post negotiating with the postal workers union, we can appreciate even in this peaceful country relatively peaceful country the tensions that can arise when workers want something that companies aren’t willing to pay for: safety. There’s a part in the film that shows the violence and outright blood in the streets that happened when Vietnam workers factory workers were asking for a minimum wage of $160USD per month. That’s less than $2000 a year! People, that’s upsetting.

So what can we do as an alternative to buying all the things this Friday? Part of the MAKE SMTHNG movement is disrupting Black Friday. That could mean a lot of things obviously but for me this year, it’s going to mean not buying anything on Black Friday that I wouldn’t buy any other time of the year because I need it. So do I think that not buying anything on Black Friday is the solution? Not necessarily. I think that it’s more being aware of what you are buying and why you were buying it and buying it with the idea in your head that this is a conscious decision.

I don’t know I don’t have the answer obviously just yesterday actually I received an email from Columbia Sportswear advertising their Black Friday Sale that STARTS NOW and I clicked it immediately. I went to Ebates where there was 10% cashback on any Columbia purchases. So my brain just started firing with “Oh my gosh, it’s 10% cashback and there’s already sale so it’s like doubly awesome and I need these things anyway” and before I knew it I had $250 worth of stuff in my online shopping cart. And then I just had a moment where I managed to catch myself and say, “Wait! What? What am I doing? Didn’t I just see boots like I just added to my cart literally being thrown around in piles of dirty factories by exploited people and do I wanna contribute to that?” I don’t. I clicked away. I found new-to-us boots for my 8 year old at the MCC today for $3.50 instead of $75. And they’re Columbia. Where’s the frickin’ facepalm emoji when you need it?

So maybe you don’t need a new dress from Banana Republic this year. Maybe you don’t need a new dress shirt for $14.99 on Black Friday. Maybe what you have in your wardrobe already will guide you through the year. The problem for me, is the wanting. Obviously I don’t need any of these things that are about to go on sale in a couple days. But I want them. I have this urge to just buy the things and that urge is really, really hard to deny. All my life I’ve been buying things, wanting things, giving into the culture that says buying is a social activity; going to the mall with our girlfriends is a a night out. That window shopping isn’t enough. That new shoes will make us feel amazing! If only we had the perfect dress the thing that we want will happen! A raise! A new partner! An increase in self confidence! A magical meet cute! And it’s really tough to realize that all this is bullshit, but I’m so happy to know that culture is shifting.

At the jeans class that just happened this past Saturday, Marissa (from Zero Waste Manitoba) and I had a day of interesting conversations about ethical fashion, sewing and zero waste and at one point we discussed how to create more awareness around issues that matter to us. This sprang out of a question Corinne from Blueline Vintage asked at the screening, and how do we make other people aware about the realities about how fast fashion items are made. Marissa had this one example of just asking simple questions in a curious voice, “Hm, where do you think that was made?” “What conditions do you think that the person was making it in?” “I wonder what it’s made out of?” I don’t think to ask myself these questions sometimes. Case in point: at one point during the jeans making process we were talking about back pockets and I said “oh you can just put them on with wonder tape this wonderful little double-sided sticky tape that will keep them in place while you try them on.”

And she said, “Hm, what’s it made out of?”

I said, “Plastic, I guess? I don’t know, petroleum? Probably.”

So it’s amazing how just asking the question can really make you just stop for a hot second.

And the giving didn’t stop there, the conversation above sparked another one around the kitchen table that evening. I was telling all my kids about Marissa and her zero waste lifestyle and they started asking questions about our consumption and how we can be more environmentally friendly and couldn’t we also be more zero waste? Definitively yes. And then my husband told us a story about a guy who went on a quest to thank every person that contributed to the cup of coffee he bought that morning at a café. Our kids are 9, 8, 6 and three and boy did they ever have a good grasp of who else was involved in making the coffee. Selling the seeds, to transporting the seeds, to farming the seeds, to the person on the tractor, to the harvesting of the seeds, to the transport to the factory, the roasting, the transport, the person working at the borders, the people who build and maintain the roads, it was incredible. We are participating in a super long chain of consumerism that ends with the barista.

So this Friday starts MAKE SMTHNG week which runs from November 23 to December 2, and Anna-Marie Janzen (Reclaim Mending) and I are going to be having a disrupt Black Friday/MAKE SMTHNG Make & Take event on December 1, from 1-4pm at the Millennium Library in Winnipeg Manitoba. You are invited to show up and make a little bag that you can use for so many different things, including gift wrapping something this season. The idea is just to be creative. I really hope that we get to see some of you and I really hope that we can just continue having this open, honest and nonjudgmental conversations about consumerism and where it comes from. Ahem, big business.