28 May 2015
New film shatters misconceived attitudes towards fast fashion
With the cost of housing spiralling out of control and basics becoming more and more expensive it's some comfort that fashion bucking the trend and becoming cheaper.
The question we don't often consider is at what cost? And there is a cost as we see in a very raw way in the newly released film True Cost, which exposes the true cost of our fast and cheap fashion industry. It's a confronting, heart-breaking and damning expose into the clothing industry.
Director Andrew Morgan had no previous fashion experience, coming into the project "completely blind". Morgan was challenged to make the film after seeing a photo of children who were close in age to his own children, hunting for their loved ones near the Rana Plaza rubble.
The film was showcased at this year's Cannes Film Festival and produced with people like Livia Firth, creative director of Eco Age and wife of Colin Firth, and the Guardian's Lucy Siegle who has long championed fair fashion and eco-sustainability.
Morgan travels across the globe from an organic cotton farm in Texas, from developing countries such as Bangladesh and Haiti, to the high streets of New York and London, painting a disturbing picture of environmental and social devastation against a backdrop of appalling human rights violations. Within a generation our attitude towards fashion has drastically changed. Lucy Siegle recently observed: "Almost overnight we have become used to consuming fashion with reckless, addicted abandon, buying more clothes than ever before, reversing centuries of fashion heritage, knowledge and understanding in the process." Our grandparents would have expected to wear a piece for many seasons. Now it's the norm to wear a piece a handful of times before relegating to the back of the wardrobe or "nobly" donating it at the local charity shop.
In Bangladesh we are confronted with the gruesome reality of working conditions for factory workers. The harrowing pictures of the Rana Plaza disaster highlight, the fatalities and lifelong injuries that are becoming more and more frequent. We meet Shima, a Bangladeshi factor worker and mother who has suffered beatings for starting a union and asking for fair wages. We journey with her on her heart wrenching decision to send her daughter far away to her family village because she can no longer care for her while she works.
In India we learn that 250,000 cotton farmers have killed themselves in the last 15 years, partly as a result of finding themselves in debt after buying genetically modified cotton seeds. While in villages where pesticide use is rife, a disproportionate number of children are being born with disabilities and illness. Once pristine and sacred rivers in India are now frothing with chemicals causing catastrophic health complications and massive environmental damage.
In Haiti we get a snapshot of the explosion in landfills full of the clothes we quickly and thoughtlessly discard. If you think you're exempt by sending these clothes to a charity shop –think again. Only 10 per cent of the clothes we donate get sold. The rest end up in these landfills where it will take centuries for them to decompose –letting off poisonous gas into the environment in the meantime.
All so we have the privilege of buying fast, cheap and convenient fashion. And we are making the most of this "privilege". In the last 20 years our buying has increased 400 per cent and globally we now buy 80 billion pieces every year.
Within a generation our attitude towards fashion has drastically changed. Lucy Siegle recently observed: "Almost overnight we have become used to consuming fashion with reckless, addicted abandon, buying more clothes than ever before, reversing centuries of fashion heritage, knowledge and understanding in the process." Our grandparents would have expected to wear a piece for many seasons. Now it's the norm to wear a piece a handful of times before relegating to the back of the wardrobe or "nobly" donating it at the local charity shop.
Capitalism has shaped a belief that buying more is good;a reflection of success. That it's wholly positive if products become cheaper. True Cost opens our eyes to the reality that there is a massive cost being paid by our environment and people in developing countries. People whose value and worth is no less than yours or mine.
The film puts a human face to people who until now have been faceless workers that we have been able to conveniently disconnect ourselves and our responsibility from for lack of connection.
Too often we reject personal responsibility with the excuse that we don't know what's going on, that it's not as bad as it seems, that it's far away or even that we're helping by providing developing countries with jobs.
True Cost is especially distressing, because you can't help but connect your own choices to the tragedy before you.
So be warned. Once you've watched this film you'll no longer be able to omit personal responsibility, but as scientist Francis Bacon famously said, knowledge is power. And this film is empowering. Equipped with the cold, hard reality of our fashion industry, we can't help but be compelled to rethink our attitude toward fashion and our buying habits.
We can continue buying, we can continue to keep up with the current trends and we can continue to do so in affordable way. However, it's about getting creative about how we do this and not mindlessly and thoughtlessly buying into the lie that by not jumping onto the fast fashion bandwagon of excess we will be doing a disservice to developing countries. That's not the case.
As a starting point, Lucy Siegle recently wrote a fantastic piece on five practical and achievable ways we can build an ethical wardrobe. It includes committing to wearing a new item 30 times and buying trans-seasonal clothes.
My hope is this film will have a profound and long lasting impact across the globe;acting as a catalyst to effect positive change within the fashion industry through the choices of you and I – the consumers.
What kind of world will we create now that we see the cost of our actions?
To watch the trailor For The True Cost, visit https://youtu.be/OaGp5_Sfbss