You hear it over and over, be the change you wish to see. But it isn’t always easy to figure out how to do that. Watching The True Cost on Netflix tonight, I realized just what I can do right now.
My move to Southeast Asia has been an enlightening one. Every year, our air in Singapore smells terribly for weeks at a time as we are blanketed in “the haze.” The haze comes from the fires clearing the land in Sumatra for the palm oil trade—affecting the poor orangutans there among other animals. So now I try to limit my consumption of palm oil whenever I can. It is clear to me now that the foods we love to eat are having a major impact on the world around us, but I never truly imagined the impact my clothes were making.
When I was living in America, it was so easy to ignore the true cost of the decisions I was making. I was your typical bargain hunter—the cheaper the better as far I was concerned. When my husband challenged me to spend a little more so the products would last longer, I argued that he was wrong—even the next price point up seemed just as cheaply made. The elite price point just seemed out of reach and ridiculous when faced with a cheaper product.
But cheap as I am, I am truly uncomfortable with treating everything as disposable. They now sell disposable sippy cups that are largely indistinguishable from the non-disposable variety. We are given a free t-shirt at every event we attend. We are surrounded these days by cheap stuff, and it feels great as we never come face to face with the destruction our actions bring.
But it’s certainly not making the consumers happy. America is awash in depressed people who “have everything.” Addictions of all kinds are rampant as people try to fill the void inside them. It is quite clear that stuff only makes us momentarily happy. I am hell-bent on trying to figure out how to raise my daughter to not be spoiled and materialistic, and somehow my subconscious thought getting away from America was the key. But Singapore has plenty of malls and possibly an even greater cultural emphasis on having brand name merchandise (fake from China though much of it may be).
Earlier this year I read the book Cheap and began to understand how the divide between rich and poor is only exacerbated by our desire for cheaper and cheaper goods. We are all suffering for it, without even realizing it. You can clearly see the divide in the documentary Park Avenue. It is a pretty biased documentary, but there definitely seems to be some truth there. How the poor have been turned against the poorer I’ll never understand, though that is the result in our world.
I am done with it all.
I’m done feeling complicit in the misery of the world. If I can’t figure out how to save the world via teaching or service work or prayer or giving to charity, I can at least do this.
Buy less stuff?
Buy no stuff at all?
Buy only from reputable companies that have checked out every single inch of the production and supply chain….?!?! How on earth are we supposed to find that out? The documentary profiled only one clothing company. And that’s just clothing. What about the myriad other things we buy? How does one ACTUALLY do this (and not look and smell like the stereotypical hippie)? Should I wear only black so stains don’t show? Will I be respected at work if my clothes and shoes appear worn and unfashionable? Do I want to be respected by people who only value superficial things? And what if I have to buy all my clothes online now? Getting a good fit is so hard as it is these days.
So yeah, I am a little overwhelmed with the questions—and those are only the clothes related questions. But I can’t do what I was doing any longer. As Shima Akhter, Bangladeshi garment work, said, “People have no idea how difficult it is for us to make the clothing. They only buy it and wear it. I believe these clothes are produced by our blood. A lot of garment workers die in different accidents. Like a year ago, there was a collapse in Rana Plaza. A lot of workers died there. It’s very painful for us. I don’t want anyone wearing anything, which is produced by our blood.” The workers in Rana Plaza warned the owners of the cracks and defects in the building, but they desperately needed their jobs, so they went anyway, leading to the deaths of over 1,100 people. The True Cost also profiles a group in Cambodia pushing for USD $160 per month wages. They were beaten for it–for the desire for a living wage–with one man dying for it.
The costs are so ridiculously high—how can I possibly justify my purchases against this?
So now to do the work. Please help me! I am only going to buy second hand items until I can find reputable retailers, and I mean this in the very strictest sense. The documentary says that major retailers have all found ways to say they demand fair trade sorts of conditions, but the reality on the ground says otherwise. I will start compiling lists, for those in the states and those abroad, of companies or websites we can trust absolutely. Please join me and buy second hand whenever you can—it truly seems like the only way to no longer be complicit in what is happening in third world countries. When fast fashion can no longer be profitable, it will change. Just like we are starting to see healthier and healthier changes in our grocery stores, maybe we can start to see these changes in our retailers as well.