Why the People Making Our Clothes Are in Danger

A fashion insider reveals the moment she couldn’t look past the life-threatening problem.
May 26, 2015·
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

In a world where fast fashion reigns and retailers scramble to be first out of the gate with the latest trends for the lowest price, consumers rarely stop to consider the people who are cranking out these “must-have” items.

Living, breathing people are making these clothes, not a machine designed to manufacture crop tops and jumpsuits.

The True Cost, a fashion documentary film, explores the question, “Who pays the price for our clothing?”

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And, no, it’s not your credit card company in reference to the number listed on that tag you’re fondling as you try to decide if this is a trend you’d wear more than once. It’s the emotional and physical toll on textile workers as they attempt to produce a staggering number of pieces in an effort to keep their low-paying jobs.

Livia Firth, an executive producer of The True Cost and the creative director of Eco-Age, a brand consultancy working with companies to increase growth through sustainability, recalls her aha moment in regard to conscious consumerism.

“A few years ago, it must’ve been 2008 or 2009, Lucy Siegle [journalist and executive producer of The True Cost] and I went to Bangladesh for Oxfam,” she says in the video above. “We managed to go and visit a factory in Dhaka. It was a game changer. We were absolutely shocked because there was only one entrance to the factory. It was in a very random building, and there was only one entrance. There was an armed guard, so the women, the workers, couldn’t come in and out without being checked.”

Firth describes the scene: three overcrowded floors filled with women working, with all of the windows of the building barred, making an escape in the event of an emergency impossible.

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“If anything happened, there is no fire escape,” she says. “The women can’t get out. The windows can’t open.”

The more Firth and Siegle spoke with the laborers, the more horrifying they realized the reality of the situation was. In this scenario, the women had to produce 100 pieces an hour and were only offered two toilet breaks a day. Calling in sick essentially meant forfeiting your job because you would be fired.

“It was the first time I was exposed to this harsh reality of how the clothes were being made miles and miles away from my home. The first time I made that connection,” Firth says. “Once you experience that, you go home and you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist anymore. You can’t close an eye and say, ‘Oh, I’ll go buy this thing anyway.’ I met the women. I started a rapport with them, and this is when I think I decided I had to do something to change that. I had to tell their story. I wanted to tell their story to everyone.”

The True Cost, directed by Andrew Morgan, will be released internationally on May 29.