Ethical instalment: Key take aways from the true cost - Part three - Consumers

Part three, the last part of the Key takeaways from 'The True Cost' (see part one here and part two here) has been divided into the relevant information affecting consumers, primarily in the west.

Stories surrounding a rise in mental health and the problems with social media, body image and striving for perfection have flooded the news over the last year or so and all of these relate back to self image and the role of fashion.

As upsetting as the topics can be, they are relevant and discussion is important in taking steps towards change.

Research shows that after hundreds of studies, that the more people focus on materialistic values, and the more they believe that money, image, status and possessions are important, the less happy and the more depressed & anxious they are. 

We know that all these types of psychological problems tend to increase when increasing materialistic values. Now, that ‘flies in the face’ of all the thousands of messages we receive daily (mostly subliminal) from ads suggesting that materialism and the pursuit of possessions and owning things is what will make us happy. 


It is important to understand that advertising is a variety of propaganda. 

Most adverts try to link the consumption of the product with a message that suggests that their needs will be met with it.

If you think of most shampoo advertisements, where the person now has beautiful hair and it is loved and appreciated by the people around them. The basic message is obvious: how to solve the problems of life is through consumption - even if it is just a bottle of shampoo.

This is where the vicious cycle begins - believing that a product will make you happy, when in fact nothing materialistic can ever fulfil you in the long run - especially when it is mass produced and updated almost every week.

The companies, through advertising, have made society believe that happiness is based on acquisitive items and that true happiness can only be achieved with annual, seasonal, weekly/daily gain, in the amount of things that you take into your life. 

We need to encourage people to rethink these assumptions, to understand where the products come from. The customer has to know who is responsible for what parts of the industry and what sort of long term effects the whole product cycle has on them and the planet. Customers must be ‘educated’ to realise that they have the power to change things, because without them, there is no investment, profit or jobs. 

Classification and looking at consumers

Today we buy more than 400% more clothing than the amount purchased two decades ago. The way we buy clothes has changed so much and so fast, few people actually stopped to understand the origin of this new model, or consequences such unprecedented increase in consumption may have.

There is an article in Printers' Ink which is currently the leader in magazine advertising, a famous writer, called Earnest Elmo Calkins wrote an article titled "Consumption". 

In that article, he says there are two kinds of products. 

The class to use, as washing machines, cars and so on, the things you buy and use for a long time. 

Then there are the things you consume, as chewing gum, cigarette, and other perishables. He said that consumerism is getting people try the things you use, as things you eat. 

The new fast fashion model has turned fashion in to a product we consume rather than use. It has become a disposable product.

Black Friday Hysteria now happens every year and once again now thanks to 'CYBER MONDAY' - showing a further push for more events to advance consumption. In many western countries, the day seems like some sort of panic, as if we are in danger of running out of things, and those who need something have to go out and buy now because it will disappear forever. 

Patagonia (A really great brand if you haven't already heard of them - who donated their entire $10m Black Friday sales to environmental organisations), hate the word "consumers" and use the word "customers" in favour of clients who recognise the impact of their consumption and understand that their buying behaviours can be the problem or the solution.

Patagonia hopes to encourage our customers to join to us for questioning consumption, because without a reduction in consumption, they believe that we will not find a collective solution to the problems we face collectively.

Personal consequences of mass consumption - which we sometimes may not link

Guido Bera, an Italian economist has focused on why people do not realize that they are becoming increasingly poor. He points out that fashion is something that has changed dramatically over the last 15 years or so. 

Historically we could buy one, two shirts, four T-shirts, for example, a year. Whereas now, people will often but a shirt for each party, or each day. 

The price of fashion items have fallen massively in recent years - following the disappearance of the middle class. 

The things we really need such as a home, education and life insurance have risen. 

Although there may be an immediate comfort and satisfaction in buying something tangible such as a T-shirt or two- ultimately people are becoming lost in a cycle of mass consumption, not long term fulfilment.

"Because they are making us believe that we are rich or wealthy because we can buy many things. But we actually are getting poorer. And the only person who is getting richer is the owner of Fast Fashion. So that angers me a little."

Blind to the future consumers of our products, in a recycling system that is totally outdated

"Pepe" is a disease in Haiti. Not only in Haiti, but in almost any third world country you visit.

It is a huge problem - Pepe is a mass of clothes, mostly from the United States and UK that people donate to charities, which cannot be sold in their retail stores.

It turns out that only 10 percent of donations get sold in thrift stores. 

As the amount of second-hand clothes into Haiti has increased, the local textile industry has almost disappeared. What once was a sector proudest making garments, Haiti now produces mainly cheap shirts to be exported to the United States. This also means a loss in community as people would previously have taught each other to sew and worked together to give back rather than exporting. 

Read more about the problems with charity donations and third world countries here. 

Will we continue seeking happiness in the consumption of things? Are we going to be satisfied with a system that makes us feel rich, while ignoring our desperately increasing poor world?

While there is growing awareness on the impact of fashion in the world, there are also key industry leaders who begin to question the impacts of a model based on production for inconsiderate and endless consumption, it should be hoped that this will start a revolution in these industries.


I hope you have enjoyed my brief notes and take aways from 'The True Cost' I would definitely rate the movie 5/5 and recommend it to anyone, whether you like fashion or not.

Jess xx

"Most women are dissatisfied with their appearance - it's the stuff that fuels the beauty and fashion industries." 

Annie Lennox


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