'The True Cost' - Documentary Review

I was asked in a recent interview by the revival collective (you can read the full interview here) if there were any books, films or documentaries that I would recommend on the subject of sustainability and the environment. That got me thinking about what a great opportunity I have on this wonderful space to share reviews of books, films, articles, blogs and podcasts with a particular focus on sustainable fashion.

I've decided to focus this blog post on a review of the documentary, 'the true cost' movie directed by Andrew Morgan. This short movie is a fantastic introduction to the huge issues surrounding the fast fashion industry. It explores problems within all aspects of the supply chain. Including farming cotton, manufacturing of goods, worker conditions, over consumption and the industry's huge contribution to pollution (the fashion industry is thought to be the second highest polluting industry in the World).

Available on Netflix and only 1hour 30mins long, it is so easy to digest the well-researched information in this documentary and forms a strong foundation that allows viewers to take the information learnt from the documentary and research further.

Watch the trailer here:

Here's a brief synopsis of some of the topics covered in this amazing documentary:

The opening credits feature catwalk footage and behind the scenes footage and is introduced by Andrew who says, 'this is a story about clothing, it's about the clothes we wear, the people and the impact that it's having on our World. It's a story about greed and fear. Power and poverty.'

The first part of the documentary explores issues with the constant cheapening of products and lowering of prices. With a particular focus on how squeezing prices affects the 40million garment workers, their working conditions and the devastating effects cutting of costs can have, such as the Rana Plaza collapse, that claimed the lives of 1,134 on the 24th April 2013. The Ali Enterprises fire that claimed the lives of over 250 workers and Tazreen Fashions fire that killed at least 117 people.

The documentary goes onto explore the day to day lives of garment factory workers in Bangladesh, the lowest paid garment workers in the World. Some of whom are working for as little as $3 per day and cannot afford to feed their children, send them to school or offer them safe living conditions. Which leads many parents resort to leaving their children with their grand-parents in smaller villages as they feel this offers their children a better quality and better start to their life. However, means that they will not see their children often, sometimes as little as once a year.

Following the introduction to the appalling conditions that workers manufacture our clothing in, the documentary goes to explore better options for manufacturing clothing and gives the viewers insight into brands that are aiming to produce fashion more ethically. Including Safia Minney founder of the people tree, who states, ‘fair trade is the citizens response to correcting a social injustice in the trading system that is largely dysfunctional.

The next section of the documentary analyses agriculture within the fashion industry and interviews Larhea Pepper, who is an organic cotton farmer in Texas and managing director of the textile exchange. We learn that 80% of cotton farming in Texas uses GMO seeds, produced by Monsanto to be 'round-up' ready. She states that organic cotton farming was, 'no longer important, it was imperative' after her husband passed away of brain cancer at the young age of 47. Brain cancer is an illness that is common in the agriculture industry and is linked with chemical intensive farming.

The documentary then goes onto explore the cotton farming industry in India, where farmers are often exploited by sellers of GMO seeds that are 1700% more expensive and because these GMO seeds are owned by the company, Monsanto, farmers are not allowed to harvest the seeds and are forced to re-purchase every year. We learn that a direct result of this method of farming is leading farmers into extreme amounts of debt, which is resulting in high levels of suicides in India (one every 30 minutes). Not only that, but in the Punjab region of India, known as the area using the highest number of pesticides. The contamination of the soil and water is causing cancer, mental and physical birth defects (70-80% of children) and numerous skin conditions, it makes it impossible to deny that there are direct links between this statistic and the use of chemicals during farming.

Later in the film, we see the vastly polluted Kanpur river in India. The water that flows down this river is used to tan leather cheaply using chromium 6. The result = drinking water, the local environment, food etc is polluted with the deadly chemical, known to cause extreme health problems and cancer, resulting in death.

One of the final issues touched on is mental health of the consumers. We learn that studies have proven that the more materialistic people get, the less happy they are contradictory to the messages that are fed to us by the advertising industry. With a whopping 80billion pieces of new clothing purchased each year (400% more than twenty years ago), which contribute to the 1 million tonnes of textiles thrown into landfills each year (many of which are made of synthetic materials derived from oil, meaning that they will sit there for hundreds of years). I can't help feel that we are all being conned.

Lucy Siegle states in this documentary that, 'the fashion industry can never and should never be thought of as a disposable product.' -  Watching this documentary is a wonderful insight into why this statement should be taken as gospel and implemented into all of our lives, it truthfully tugs at the heart strings and enables viewer to understand 'the true cost' of their clothing.

Andrew ends the documentary asking the question, 'will we continue to search for happiness in the consumption of things? Will we be satisfied with a system that feels right, but leaves our World so desperately poor? Will we continue to turn a blind eye to the lives of those behind our clothes? Or will this be a turning point, a new chapter in our story?'

We have a choice. Let's make it. 

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