The True Cost of a T-Shirt: Unveiling the Hidden Realities of the Fashion Industry

The True Cost of a T-Shirt: Unveiling the Hidden Realities of the Fashion Industry

Want to know how we felt when we spent $20 on a t-shirt that never arrived? Pretty darn good! 


Reeve recently purchased Not a T-Shirt from Fashion Revolution, an organization that advocates for ethical practices and environmental responsibility in the fashion industry. The Not a T-Shirt campaign urges people to shift their mindsets from “getting” to “giving”. By donating to the campaign, we are not buying actual t-shirts; we are supporting events that mobilize citizens to act in transforming the fashion industry. 

This got us thinking about the humble t-shirt, which serves as a symbol of a larger issue: the exploitation of both people and planet for cheap clothing. While we may be accustomed to snagging a t-shirt for a few bucks, the reality behind its production tells a much more troubling story that reveals the unfortunate reality of the fashion industry. 


Unraveling the Supply Chain 

Let’s delve into what goes into making a t-shirt. It starts with raw materials, typically cotton, which demands vast amounts of water, pesticides, and land. Then the manufacturing process, often outsourced to countries with lax labor regulations, where many workers are underpaid women and children, toil in unsafe conditions for long hours. According to the Global Slavery Index, textiles are among the top categories with risks of forced or child labour. 

However, the supply chain issues extend beyond labor exploitation. From raw material extraction and product transportation, the fashion industry contributes significantly to carbon emissions and environmental degradation. Moreover, complex supply chains make it hard to trace the origins of clothing, leading to further ethical and environmental concerns. As consumers, understanding these complexities is crucial in making informed choices and advocating for transparency and accountability. 


The Illusion of Cheap Fashion 

Despite the human and environmental toll, consumers have been conditioned to expect clothing to be cheap. This isn’t a coincidence; it’s the result of a deliberate strategy by companies to drive down prices to the lowest possible point. Through aggressive marketing and the constant churn of trends, they have fostered a culture of disposability, where clothing is treated as a commodity rather than a valuable product of craftsmanship. 

Moreover, these companies often engage in greenwashing, slapping labels like “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” on their products without making meaningful changes to their practices. This deceptive marketing further obscures the true cost of a t-shirt and perpetuates consumer ignorance. 


Empowering Change 

So, what can we do? We must first be aware of the fashion industry’s exploitation of both people and the planet by supporting and following organizations who advocate for and educate consumers about sustainable fashion, like Fashion Revolution, Fashion Takes Action, and Remake to name a few.  

Additionally, when purchasing clothing, look for some eco labels or certified standards that inform responsible environmental or social practices such as Global Organic Textile Standard, B-Corp Certified, Fairtrade, Forest Stewardship Council, Cradle to Cradle, and many more. 

Lastly, we can embrace alternative solutions, such as buying second-hand clothing or investing in high-quality and durable clothes. By shifting our mindset away from cheap and disposable fashion, we can reduce our environmental footprint and support a more equitable industry. As we stated in a previous blog back in 2022 , “no purchase is too small to make a difference”. 



In conclusion, the true cost of a t-shirt goes far beyond the price tag, representing the reality of the fashion industry. This story mirrors the challenges faced by other clothing items as well like hoodies, uniforms, or safety vests.  By taking a more conscious approach to clothing purchase and consumption, we can work towards a fashion industry that values ethics and sustainability.

If you would like to support Fashion Revolution like we did, use this link to purchase a Not a T-Shirt!