Your ‘True Cost’ handbook

7 mins read

The True Cost is resurfacing in the YouTube-osphere as ethical shopping becomes trendier and trendier for influencers. The documentary, which came out in 2015 and which you can currently find on Netflix, kicked off awareness of how fashion, especially fast fashion, damages the environment and puts garment workers at risk of violence, oppression, exploitation, health issues and more.

The documentary is a must-see for anyone, but the shocking visual and emotional portrayals of the cost of fast fashion and the textile industry can feel a bit inactionable. So, if you’re like me, who has come to this documentary several years late and is looking for a quick start guide, I’ve got you.

What you can do after watching The True Cost

1. Shop second hand.

Shopping second hand keeps garments out of landfill for longer. The documentary notes that only around 10% of donated clothes get sold, but if more people went to second hand stores as a rule, that number could rise dramatically. Even if you’re not ready to curb the amount of clothes you purchase per year, putting yourself in a place where pieces are cheaper and waste-free can at least remove the guilt.

I won’t lie to you, shopping second hand means building patience. Thrift stores aren’t built for browsing; they’re built for hunting. Luckily you can find plenty of tips ( on how to get the most out of your experience without being too overwhelmed.

2. Shop less.

As minimalism and ethical shopping trends rise (in no doubt due to the shock The True Cost had on our collective conscious around fashion), many are working to build longer relationships with their clothes as a practice. Try holding your clothes and feeling joy; try a capsule wardrobe; try stopping shopping for a year. Everyone has different advice, and all of it is worth giving thought to.

My tips? First, treat your clothes like you want them to last as long as possible. Our tolerance for stress on clothes has decreased; it’s more normal to throw away lightly damaged clothing than it is to learn to sew up the holes. (Don’t know how to sew? Learn[].) If your shoes break, take them to a cobbler to assess the damage before buying new. 

Second, shop your own closet. Take pictures of outfits you like and keep those on hand (on your phone, on Pintrest, etc) to make sure you always have an outfit you like at the ready. Try an app like Cladwell ( that puts outfit combinations together for you from the items in your closet (bonus: the app shows you what you actually wear and what you don’t, so you know what’s worth getting rid of). Challenge yourself for 30 days to wear only outfit combinations you’ve never worn before from your own closet. The options are endless, but it’s all about realizing that, no matter what you want, you already have everything you need.

And my last and favorite tip: Keep a list of clothing items you need or want on your phone. Limit your shopping purchases to items on that list. When you’re out running errands or with a friend and happen to be in an item with a clothing store, consult your list and, if you find the perfect item, buy it and check it off the list, but don’t buy anything other than the exact item you want. By intentionally choosing what you want beforehand, you’ll feel an extra special connection to the item once you eventually find it.

3. Shop ethically.

This is the most difficult of all. Clothing stores are so unwilling to showcase their production methods. It’s cheaper to use cheap labor but leaves consumers feeling gross when we know we’re paying for a shirt at a 400% markup of what the factory workers make.

A service that can help you is the app Good on You (, which rates clothing stores on their processes. If you can’t find anything second hand, check out the highest-rated retailers there and see if you can find what you need.

4. Lastly and most importantly: Use your voting power.

It’s not just fashion that harms our environment; it’s that corporations get away with it. I’ve written this post because I know how motivating documentaries like The True Cost are. We want to know how to help right now. All of the tips I’ve laid out above WILL help, because the elimination of your waste is always a great way to contribute. But you are not personally responsible for people in India dying. Neither is your neighbor, no matter how bad their shopping habits are. The people who are responsible are the CEOs profiting off of the exploitation, not telling us about it, and keeping our politicians paid well enough so that they withhold the truth, too.

So give your congressperson a call once in a while and tell them what you care about and what interests you. You don’t have to always ask they support or don’t support a specific bill, although having ideas in your back pocket certainly helps. Letting them know you care about curbing corporate greed, support sustainable environmental policies, and care about labor rights is more than most people do, so feel good when you do it. If you do nothing else on this list, do this, because this is really the most important.

Rachelle Martin is a writer, media analyst and graduate student at the University of Southern California. You can find her rewatching her favorite kid's shows, writing furiously about gender, and weeping over the ‘folklore’ album. She is always wearing a sweater.

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