Realizing the Hidden Cost of Your Clothes

Rana Plaza Building Collapse in Savar BangladeshIn the most recent garment factory disaster at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh last month: over a thousand people were killed, many injured, and thousands more family members were affected. The tragedy at Savar is just the latest in a string of problems including fires, illness, and more at similar factories across Asia in recent years [as well as pieces about manufacturers exposed for extreme pollution and use of dangerous chemicals in production]. These stories don’t always make the front page of the Times, but they are just as clear of a message that is unfolding about the garment manufacturing system and our consumption habits that keep the system going, and it is all part of the hidden cost of our clothes.

In the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse, retailers have been trying to separate themselves from the responsibility of these situations: pulling out from some manufacturing companies exposed for questionable practices and establishing ‘victim funds’ in the aftermath. While we commend many retailers who have donated funds to help victims and their families, real change needs to be made to the whole of the fashion machine, and it starts with you!

That shirt you are wearing costs a lot more than what is on the price tag. The hidden costs of every good we consume get lost in the superficial haze of price, perceived value, fit, and trend. It looks so stylish on the hanger, even better when you try it on, but do you look at the label to see where it is from, or even know anything about the retailer’s production standards and ethics?

The “hidden cost” refers to the costs beyond materials, manufacturing, and markup (a.k.a. the price tag). Hidden costs can include: level of labor standards, number of man-hours (which includes growing/producing the raw materials, textile production, and assembly), as well as environmental factors (such as pesticide use on cotton plants and industrial run-off from the dye process).

When the Bangladesh tragedy hit newsstands millions of people who were previously unaware of where clothing comes from were immediately touched. Struck with just an inkling of knowledge where their clothing comes from and how many people are involved in the manufacturing process. Now is the time to rethink your place in the retail/consumption cycle and pay attention to the hidden cost of your clothes.

What is the hidden cost of your choice? Are you supporting child-labor? Or poor working conditions? Adding to global pollution? Are you adding to the problem rather than being a part of the solution?

Slow down. Think.

More news about the Rana Plaza disaster:
Bangladesh Factory Collapse: Is There Blood on Your Shirt?
Divided Over Bangladesh
Death Toll Rises From Bangladesh Building Collapse
Bangladesh Arrests Engineer Who Warned of Dangers

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