The true cost – who made my clothes?

May 3, 2016

Eighty-five per cent of all garment workers in the world are women

Photo: Fashion Revolution. Front: author Kathy Gardiner

Fashion is an expression; it is what we wish to communicate about ourselves but does the cost of our addiction come at a price, or are we blinded by a hunger for ‘want’ that we refuse to ignore it?

On the Anzac holiday weekend, my husband and I took the opportunity to attend the screening of The True Cost documentary held at Brisbane’s Food Connect Homestead and run by Fashion Evolution, a locally based community awareness group. This was an event organised in support of Fashion Revolution, a United Kingdom not-for-profit community interest company known for their annual global movement of raising awareness of the “true cost” that our demand for fashion has on human rights, sustainability and the environment.

Catalyst for change

On 24 April 2013, 1,134 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was following this tragic event three years ago that Fashion Revolution was born and with it the mission to bring global awareness to the rights of the 40+ million garment workers across the world with a simple campaign questioning “Who Made My Clothes?” This campaign seeks to bring transparency to an industry in an era of disconnection with the maker.

At "The True Cost" screening. Photo Credit: JLH Ponte Photography
At “The True Cost” screening.
Photo Credit: JLH Ponte Photography

“We believe in an industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure. Our mission is to bring everyone together to make that happen.” – Fashion Revolution

In a $3 trillion a year industry, where cheap clothes are abundantly assessable it is easy to ignore the processes that are involved in who makes our clothes and the conditions they are produced under. I have always been a bit of a ‘fashion hound’, seeking out the best buys, the so-called ‘bargains’ and how I could manipulate a look to suit my chosen style.

My part in the clothing revolution

With a big gulp I admit I have numerous cupboards full of clothing. After viewing The True Cost documentary, I feel a great deal of shame. It is with naivety that one innocently reviews a clothing tag here in Australia and reads the words “Made in China” or “Made in India”, this is the era that we have grown up in is it not; this common association that our clothing is made abroad?

I raise my hand and admit that I was ignorant. It is always easier to ignore a problem when you can’t see it physically for yourself.

So who are the people that make our clothes?

Eighty-five per cent of all garment workers in the world are women. Do these workers share the same rights as those of us in the Western World? The answer is no.

It is paramount that global and smaller supply chains sourcing production from developing countries focus on providing fair working conditions for their employees, where a decent pay is awarded the worker, and equally where they can be assured of safe conditions. This seems to be a simple decent human right.

“If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy in to it”

This was wisely stated by Stella McCarthy and she is right. The power is in our hands and we have the ability to change the direction to how we globally consume.

For me, my love of vintage has soared to new heights and I am often sourcing my clothing with unique pieces found from local thrift stores, or through supporting local designers.

Fashion as a pollutant

The documentary states that fashion is the number two most polluting industry in the world, second to oil production (and I personally believe agriculture). As cheap imports increase and “disposable” fashion become the norm, millions of tonnes of textile waste is burdening our environment. Eleven million tonnes of textile waste is disposed of each year in the U.S. alone.

In an alarming discovery only 10-15 per cent of clothes donated make it to the shelves of thrift stores across the world. How much do the charities of the world receive before it goes in to waste?

Buying Australian made

Australia prides itself on being the leader of sustainable cotton production in the world, with cotton being one of our largest exports to China. However many Australians are unaware that most of our beloved Australian cotton is actually spun and woven overseas.

To source fabric “Made in Australia” is almost impossible with only a handful of mills still existing in the country. Over 50 Australian mills closed in the face of competition and cheap exports in the last 20 years, with notably the Rocklea Spinning Mills going in to receivership in 2003 as a result of a competitive overseas market, the rise in the Australian dollar (at the time) and the Australian drought pushing prices up.

While the need to change the system as it presently stands is paramount, change does not happen unless we change our attitude and implement action.

So how can you do your part?


  • Buy less – reduce your own textile waste footprint while also reducing your impact on production methods;
  • Buy better – conscious consuming. Support transparent organisations so you can better understand their practices. Buying one quality product will provide longevity;
  • Recycle, reuse, revamp – fashion is interchangeable, create your own style and be unique;
  • Educate – be informed. Understand the process and share the awareness while being a part of the solution; and,
  • Support – local producers, designers and artisans.


Following a successful crowdfunding campaign and founded by Ethical Consumers Australia the development of Good on You App was launched. Good on You is a free app designed to “help you choose brands that have a positive impact on people, the planet and animals – and to avoid brands that don’t deserve your money.”

I discovered Good on You earlier this year and it has become a handy and quick tool to assist me in making informed choices in my purchases.

“We start to die the day that we become silent about the things that matter to us.” – Martin Luther King”

The True Cost is one of those documentaries that one needs to watch in order to understand the importance of transparency; and it all starts with one simple question… Who made my clothes?

 What do you think? Are you doing something that you could share with us all?


Information Sources:

Fashion Revolution

The True Cost

Cotton Australia

Good on You App

Images credit Fashion Revolution

True Cost Screening Group Photo Credit: JLH Ponte Photography

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