The True Cost behind Fashion

In December, AfG's Associate Board hosted a successful event called Good Views: The True Cost. We showed the groundbreaking documentary film, The True Cost, that provides a look into the untold stories of the fashion industry and asks people to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing? 

We recently invited a few members of the Allowance for Good community to reflect back on the event and the lessons they took away from the documentary. We'd like to extend our thanks to Associate Board members, Erica and Megan, and AfG youth, Ross, for sharing their experiences and thoughts.

What were your initial reactions after seeing The True Cost?

Megan Bowen, AfG Associate Board member After seeing The True Cost, I think my initial reactions were similar to many of the other individuals in the room. The movie was devastating. It is difficult to understand how our habits in the US, something as small as going shopping for clothing, can have such a global impact. The movie definitely opened our eyes to the consequences of discount clothing shopping.

Ross, AfG youth It was incredibly thought provoking, making me put my own shopping habits into perspective and consider the rest of the world. However, I knew that I was still imprisoned in the grasp of consumerism. Another 20% off coupon or promotion for a $3 t-shirt and I’d be perpetuating the toxic cycle that is the garment industry. What would solve this? More accessible world-conscious clothing, less expensive world-conscious clothing, and a more constant stream of awareness regarding the wrong-doings of big fashion. In the internet world we live in, important things can easily be swept away in the deluge of cat videos and list articles. 

Erica, AfG Associate Board Co-Founder and memberThe True Cost was one of the most eye-opening documentaries I’ve seen in a long time because it forced me to confront the part I play in the fast fashion industry. Before the event, I was blissfully unaware of how my shopping habits were contributing to the devastation and exploitation of communities across the globe. The True Cost changed everything. First, I was shocked to learn of the damaging effects of donated clothing. I always feel proud when I take my clothes to Salvation Army or Goodwill, thinking that I am helping the environment by recycling, as well whoever shops at the discounted stores. I was appalled to learn that those clothes either end up in landfills or overseas where they cripple local economies. Second, I learned that companies claiming to be sustainable – companies that I regularly shop with – are fooling their consumers. It doesn’t matter how sincere they are with their efforts to go green; fast fashion companies’ mass production will never align with sustainable, eco-friendly practices.  These are lessons that good intentions are not enough. As global citizens, we are obligated to learn about and respect the interconnectedness of our world. Buying socially conscious clothing is a change we all can make that will exponentially improve the world we share.

How did the movie build your awareness moving forward?

Ross While it really did make me think, I was right in my presumption that a lasting effect wouldn’t come from one showing. But I’m going to do more research. Look for the more world-conscious retailers. Find out how I CAN help. Because it’s a cause that matters. I am in the direct path of a tidal wave of data every day, and it takes a lot to hold on to the bits that matter. This is why the world needs more organizations like AfG. To pull out the crucial stories and causes, showing them to people and making a difference. One person can never catch all the honest pleas for action that fly by in a day, and Allowance for Good makes more of those pleas heard.

Did your experiences affect your thoughts around shopping or your purchasing habits?

Megan I think I am trying my best to be more aware of the products I purchase and where they were manufactured. If every person that watched The True Cost avoids just one store that was mentioned in the movie, I think I would call our event a success. For me, I decided that I would not shop at Forever 21 anymore, and so far, that has been a success.  

Erica Since watching The True Cost, I have made changes to where I buy clothes, how often I shop, and how I donate and recycle old clothes. It was surprisingly difficult to find a program that handles donated clothes responsibly, though it seems that donating to local thrift shops or directly to women’s homes and churches are the best choices. My biggest take away from The True Cost is that I can afford to shop better, but the world cannot afford fast fashion. 

Did you share or talk about what you learned with anyone else (perhaps someone who hadn't attended the event)?

Megan I did talk about it with friends and urged them to watch The True Cost. Though I found it difficult to put the movie’s events and stories into words that did it justice. 

Erica I recently shared what I learned with my mother, and she was incredibly concerned about her own shopping and donating habits. She hadn’t even seen the documentary, but just listening to me compelled her to change her ways. The conversation was proof that basic awareness is an easy first step to curbing our overconsumption. 

Making an Impact for Human Rights

By: Anika
Anika is a participant in Allowance for Good's Spring Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy: Explorers class. 

This week in ELP, we talked about human rights. We learned about the different plans and steps for fixing the problems that come with the lack of human rights. There is a declaration issued by the United Nations about human rights. We tend to take many of these basic rights for granted.

 In this class, I learned a lot about human rights and I was able to appreciate how fortunate I am. Less developed countries do not provide adequate protection of human rights, which is a problem that needs to be fixed. Some people don’t have freedom of thought, or the right to privacy. I cannot imagine not having the right to privacy and freedom of thought and speech.

 One of these rights was the right to education. Malala’s speech about the right to education was very inspiring for many reasons.  She is a young girl living in a Taliban dominated and controlled country. She is a girl and a child and the Taliban believed that the children of Pakistan, especially girls and women, had no right to education.  She still stood out, regardless of everything against her and spoke out for both girls and boys. Taliban continued to threaten her but she could not be stopped because she believed in the right to education for everyone. She was shot in the head by the Taliban but that made her even more determined to fight for access and equality of education.

 Another right is the right to food and shelter. There are so many people who don’t have 3 meals a day. Hunger and shelter is a problem all over the world, including the most developed countries. Even a country as developed as the United States has over 5,000 homeless and hungry people in just a 50 mile radius. All of my life I have grown up listening to how my classmates and I were so lucky to have food on our plates and a roof over my head.

 I have heard statistics that 1 out of 5 children go hungry. We have not discussed ways in which we could solve this problem. I would like to try and make a dent in the issue of homelessness and hunger.

One of the ways to doing that is to build awareness of this problem at a younger age. It could be as simple as teaching kids to not waste food and water, volunteering at a food bank, richer class discussions etc.

Building a Philanthropic Foundation for Future Endeavors

By: Nate
Nate was a participant in Allowance for Good's Autumn 2014 Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy: Explorers class. 

I have really enjoyed my classes at Allowance for Good.

Before my first class, I honestly did not know how to define philanthropy, so I looked it up. According to Webster’s dictionary, philanthropy is goodwill or the active effort to promote human welfare.  Again, I found another unfamiliar word – goodwill. I researched further because other than donating our closes and used items to Goodwill, I needed more explanation. According to Webster’s dictionary, goodwill is a feeling of support.  I was starting to catch on.  My family has consistently helped our community cooking at soup kitchens, donating money and items, and helping with other service projects.  I have grown about with the understanding that it is necessary to support to not only community but humankind especially those less fortunate then myself.  It is part of who I am as a student, an athlete, a brother and son and a member of my church to help others.  Although looking back, I see the ways I have helped (another student or my younger siblings with school work, a teammate with a drill, or a hungry person at a soup kitchen), I have a better understanding of what philanthropy is and how I want to continue with bigger projects to help a greater number of people, and not just random acts of kindness.

I would like to continue to be a philanthropist and young catalyst for good after ELP by exploring the issue of poor children’s basic right to adequate medical care.  I would like to go to college and study medicine and eventually become a doctor. My hope is to discover a cure for cancer.  I know that there are millions of children around the world that do not have access to basic medicine such as vaccines or prescription drugs when they get sick.  I know that many children die from diseases and viruses that are either preventable with vaccines or curable with medicine, but the children die because they are not treated.  It is important to me that all children are given adequate healthcare regardless of ability to pay.  I would like to be part of the process to make this a reality.

One of my favorite parts about about ELP was meeting so many new people and hearing all of their great ideas about building support in the community and the world.

Nate writes, "I am a Catalyst for Good because all humans should have the same rights so they live in happiness."

If I Had a Family Foundation...

By: Genevieve
Genevieve is participating in Allowance for Good's winter 2014 Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy program.

If I was the head of a family foundation, I would support education and housing for those in need. I would support these causes because I believe that they are the two most important things one needs in order to have a successful life. There are so many people without shelter. Homelessness exists throughout the world, from San Francisco to Italy. Once you are homeless, it is very hard to get back to a normal life without a group of people who want to help. My foundation would not just provide a shelter for people who need a place to stay for a little while and then go back out onto the streets. During the day, all school age children would go to a public school so that they can be educated. Their guardians would be learning about how to get their life back on track, continuing their education and getting some job training. When the kids come home from school, they would be able to do their homework and then have a good, healthy dinner. I would want these families to feel safe without worrying about where they are going to sleep the next night. I believe this stability is the core to having a successful life. If the kids are staying in school and getting an education while their guardians are improving their lives, these families will have a higher chance of success out in the real world. 

I think that education is very important, because if one is not educated, then they will not be able to get a stable job and support their families. I have noticed at the shelter that I volunteer at, that when a family has been staying there for several weeks, the older kids end up taking care of their younger siblings. This is a big responsibility for the older siblings and I wonder how much time they have left over to do their own homework. It seems to me that the kids have just as hard of a time being homeless as the their guardian does. I volunteer on Wednesdays at a women’s homeless shelter and I help the children with their homework. As a reward, we play games after they are done. I try to encourage the kids to work hard so that they can develop good study habits and enjoy going to school. 

Genevieve, right, listens to guest speaker Sharmila Rao Thakker of The Siragusa Foundation during the Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy seminar.

Quality Education for All

By: Lauren
Lauren is participating in Allowance for Good's winter 2014 Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy program.

I am passionate about making quality educational opportunities available to all children and parents, regardless of their income and their environment.

I came from a poor household where my birth parents were uneducated and uninformed about what opportunities might be available to improve our family’s life. I had no exposure to reading or writing and attended an inner city school thru the first half of second grade. There were 38 children in my first grade class with only one teacher and no assistant. I could not get the help I needed because I didn’t know how to ask for it and my Mom and Dad didn’t know how to advocate for me. My life changed dramatically when my Mom allowed me to live with my godmother. She is a college graduate with a double degree. Suddenly I was immersed in learning, attending a quality district school in the suburbs and gradually coming out of my shell.

My godmother then enrolled me in Baker Demonstration School for middle school. My Mom and Dad would never have been able to do that because of the cost, even with financial aid. By 7th grade I realized how much I had been missing by not attending a quality school. I got all the help I needed and began to achieve academic success in all my subjects.

As a result of my experiences at Baker, I became committed to making the 2014 8th grade graduating class gift something of significance to provide an opportunity for a child like me to attend a high quality school. I am proud of myself because I led this charge. We decided on a scholarship for tuition costs and have been raising money throughout this school year to fund the scholarship through multiple means—bake sales, hot dog lunches, babysitting services, and various partnerships with local businesses.

I am hoping that the Class of 2015 will follow in our footsteps and make a second scholarship available. My classmates and I have worked hard to impress the 7th graders about the importance of this issue.

I will be attending Regina Dominican High School where there is a great emphasis on women’s leadership. I have already attended one of their conferences and learned a great deal about consensus-forming and incorporating diverse opinions into one goal and project. I am determined to continue to work on providing all children with the opportunity to escape a life of poverty through education. My dream is that those of us who get this opportunity will grow in number and commit to continuing the efforts to reach more and more children and their families.

Lauren tells us why she is a Catalyst for Good during our ELP: Explorers class. It reads, "I  am a Catalyst for Good because I am determined to give the choice of education to any child around the world!"