What We Wear: The True Cost [Film Review]

We know you care about what goes on inside your pants. And, we're pretty sure you care about what goes on outside of your pants too. You are wearing upcycled undies, after all. :)


Which is why we're equal parts thrilled and sobered to recommend a new documentary about fast fashion (think H&M, Target, Forever 21, Zara, Costco, Walmart, etc.) that recently arrived on Netflix called The True Cost.


Full disclosure:  I backed this project on Kickstarter a few years ago, so it was thrilling to see what filmmaker (and not fashion guy) Andrew Morgan had created.


In its more uplifting moments, The True Cost introduced organic cotton farmers in Texas and new-to-me eco-friendly and fair trade fashion brands (like People Tree) that are doing things right. This was an inspiration and reaffirmed that LVEO and our fans (you!) are not alone in caring about this stuff. :)


The film also exposed a number of horrors lurking in the fast fashion industry (I do think it's important not to conflate fast fashion with all fashion, as the filmmaker may have done. There are differences, as pointed out in this New York Times review of the film.). 


Folks in Haiti comb over clothing donations shipped from the United States. Film still from 2015 documentary The True Cost.


While some of this wasn't news to me, it's always good to be reminded about injustices that aren't a part of our day-to-day lives. From meeting sweat shop workers and their children to seeing how most of our "donated" clothing ends up polluting developing countries' landfills and decimating local apparel industries, the filmmaker humanized something that happens so far away it's easy to ignore or forget about. I also learned about things that hadn't crossed my radar yet. Like about how pesticides are affecting cotton farmers in India. Sigh.


A cotton farmer in India sprays his field with pesticides. Film still from 2015 documentary The True Cost.


Somehow it managed to teach and remind me about all these things without ever feeling super preachy or holier-than-thou. I felt like even if I didn't already know most of this, I wouldn't feel like a bad person for shopping in the stores that are some of the worst sweat shop labor culprits (it's what the industry and our culture have been telling us to do!); rather I'd want to examine my own relationship with my clothing.


It was sobering and inspiring and renewed my sense of purpose and commitment to La Vie en Orange, our clients (you!), this work, and this movement.


I did wonder if the documentary maker, Andrew Morgan, was the best suited for this kind of film; he says in the opening statements that he is a newbie to the fashion industry. The topics are complicated. All fashion isn't made the same way fast fashion is, and I'm not sure he made that entirely clear. The topics are big, and some of his statistics struck me as curious (he didn't cite many in the film).


 Garment workers in Bangladesh. Film still from 2015 documentary The True Cost.

But even for the film's faults, the issues it examines are real and he seems to make it accessible and personal enough that you realize you play a part and you can change the world just by changing some of your habits.


  • Instead of buying lots of cheap clothing, buy fewer garments of better quality that will last longer. You'll save money in the long run, and environmental resources in the short run. Plus, higher quality garments usually fit better than the cheapy fast fashion stuff. Which makes you feel better, which makes you want to go shopping less, since you already have good stuff in your closet. ;)
  • Support indie designers (Thank you for being here!) and retailers who care about where and who their clothing and materials come from. Fair trade and eco fashion isn't as burlappy as it once was (though you can still find that too... ;) 
  • Have clothing made just for you. We do it here with undies, for example, with our Hot Booty Guarantee.
  • When buying clothes, think about thrifting too. There are so many treasures to be found (and really, the digging is part of the fun) at thrift and consignment shops. Don't believe me about the treasures part? Here are some of our favorite thrifted tees.
  • Or, host a clothing swap. Your friends must have great taste (hello, they're friends with you ;)). Not sure where to start? Here's an easy how-to guide.
  • Upcycle or refashion your wardrobe or other clothes over their lifetime. Like our turning tshirts destined for landfills into Upitees! But there's lots more you can make than just undies... A few years back I turned a pair of sad men's suit pants into this sassy high waisted pencil skirt that I'm still rocking... :)
  • Mend your clothes rather than throwing them away. Here's our Pinterest board with lots of how-tos.
  • Make your own clothing. Here's our sewing tutorial blog post series, in which, along with my husband, you can learn to sew and make an upcycled shopping bag.
  • Make your voice heard. Let the government and brands you like know you disagree with unsafe working conditions for anyone. The True Cost website has an action center with a couple of petitions to sign, along with links to other organizations doing activist work around ending sweatshops.
  • Vote with your dollars - if no one spent their money on sweat shop clothing, they wouldn't make it. Plain and simple. 


Now it's your turn:  what's one way you will change your habits to reduce your clothing consumption? Or, if you're already rocking a mindful wardrobe, what's one tip you can share to help others make habits that are more in line with their values?


Please comment below.


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August 06, 2015


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