Last fall, Immaculata hosted a showing of the documentary The True Cost of Fashion. The film reveals the hidden environmental and human rights costs of “fast fashion”—cheap clothes and quickly changing trends—asking consumers to consider who really pays the price for their clothing.
“This movie crosses over into just about every discipline here at IU, specifically ethics and philosophy,” said the event’s organizer, Chris Baeza, director of the Fashion Merchandising program. “It is important for our students to know that their education, which blends and integrates the liberal arts with their professional studies, is preparing them to tackle the problems of the world. The fashion industry today is having a moral crisis given the rise of fast fashion and unconscious consumerism, which is hurting the planet and people in the name of profits.”
A panel discussion followed the film, including Sister Judith Parsons, IHM, Ph.D., associate professor of Philosophy; Stephen Miles, Ph.D., associate professor of Theology; and Kimberly Gleason-Hink, founder of Element Six, a clothing boutique that sells economically, environmentally, and socially responsible products. Here are some excerpts from the discussion.
This event introduced us to the underside of fast fashion and the need for moral cultures that can condition exchanges within the global market. In many ways, the film’s concerns overlapped with the concerns of Catholic social teaching, which insists that economic activity ought to align with the requirements of human development and the common good. This is a never-ending effort that requires many mechanisms, collaborators, and levels of human agency, including the agency that each of us exercises when we make a purchase.
The film makes evident that it also requires getting to the deep roots of the consumerist mentality that fuels fast fashion. Those roots lie within the human heart. Pope Francis has suggested consumerism is a symptom of a profound loneliness that has accompanied the disappearance of thick, local communities. For many people, consumption becomes an effort to fill a void or to establish a social identity by linking themselves to goods that others value.
Neither effort will satisfy. What we need is a recovery of the moral wisdom that can help us develop and nourish relationships that are grounded in the things that matter most. Perhaps in this way we can begin to undermine the ethos that sustains the dehumanizing world of fast fashion. As the film suggests, we must do so with a certain urgency, as the true cost of fast fashion is dangerously high.
Sister Judith Parsons
After I initially watched this video, I had to face myself and how I buy clothes. Could it be that the purchases that clothed me, my life, took away from the life of someone in Bangladesh?
I’d like to share with you some things about Aristotle and his ethics and then give you an example of someone I admire who lives with purpose.
Aristotle noticed that all people had something in common—they wanted to be happy. Some people wanted wealth to be happy, and others wanted acclaim. But some people were “content,” that is, they seemed to have enough of everything, and even when they didn’t, they were still content.
These people have the ultimate happiness because they are virtuous: they are flourishing. But how do people get to this point? Aristotle reminds us that we have the ability to think and choose. If we can do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time, in the right amount, Aristotle thinks we will be happy—we will flourish.
Think of a time when you ate too much or ate too little. Instead of flourishing, you might have been floundering. Aristotle thinks we can change that situation from misery to happiness by using our reason to live a life of virtue.
Additionally, Aristotle thought that we should surround ourselves with good mentors who could help us to acquire the habits of a happy, healthy, human being.
I saw on the news that Pope Francis went to get a new pair of glasses but told the optometrist that he wanted to use the same frames and that he didn’t want to spend too much money. For me, Francis is a good leader and a good mentor. He reminds me, just as Aristotle does, that we need to find the “mean”—the right thing at the right time in the right amount for the right reason. His decision impacts not just himself but “the common good”—Francis is mindful of others and he helps them,
by his actions and his example, to flourish, too.
I can pray for those who suffer in inhumane conditions.
I can look at my blouse and decide if I need or want a new one—or is the old one just fine?
I can research the policies of stores where I purchase things.
I can pray for the grace to use my mind to make good decisions that will help me to flourish—and help others to flourish, too.