It may come as a surprise to many consumers, but the fashion industry is one of the two largest polluters in the world – second only to oil and gas. When we consider where our clothing comes from, we don’t like to think about the immense carbon expenditure associated with harvesting, manufacturing and shipping fabrics halfway around the world. The “fast fashion” paradigm, which sees garments move from the designers’ imaginations to retail shelves more rapidly than ever before, comes with immense hidden costs. A new fashion documentary entitled
The True Cost seeks to explore both the human and environmental consequences of current fashion industry practices.

The true cost

 

Written and directed by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Andrew Morgan, the 92-minute film was released in May of this year. It can be purchased on DVD or Blu-ray and is available for viewing on iTunes, Netflix and other online streaming services. The movie has already been shown at film festivals, educational institutions and private venues, and there are more than a dozen screenings scheduled for the remainder of 2015. A trailer is available here on YouTube.

Even as consumers in the developed world purchase more pieces of clothing than was ever possible in the past, prices for items of apparel have remained low or even decreased. This is made possible by outsourcing production to poorer countries, most of which lack stringent labor and environmental protection laws. Leading retailers often pit one factory against another in bidding wars to further drive down the prices paid for the finished product – encouraging supervisors to take risks they may otherwise avoid.

The goal of The True Cost is to convince ordinary consumers to question their participation in a market phenomenon that chains workers to unsafe factories while simultaneously destroying our natural surroundings. Those who work in garment factories aren’t, as a rule, able to use these low-wage jobs as stepping stones to bigger and better things. Because of retaliatory actions taken by employers to dissuade union forming and requests for higher wages, workers are mostly locked into a cycle of low pay and hazardous conditions for life.

The combination of cheap prices, rapidly updated product lines and slick marketing campaigns mean that consumers are driven to make frequent purchases. In many cases, garments are only worn a few times before being discarded. The global demand for new clothing has reached 80 billions items of apparel yearly: four times as much as was consumed as recently as 20 years ago. High-intensity production of cotton, leather and other materials to meet this demand leads to incredible waste of water, the use of harmful pesticides and other chemicals, and the burning of fossil fuels – according to Duke Energy, the textile industry is responsible for about 10 percent of the global emissions of greenhouse gases.

In order to fight back against the deleterious effects of today’s fashion and clothing industries, regular people must vote with their dollars. The makers of The True Cost urge consumers to only buy pieces of clothing that they intend to wear many times, and its best if they source their apparel from brands that act in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, like People Tree. Greenpeace maintains a list of companies that have pledged to eliminate the use of toxic dyes, and it’s a great choice to only purchase merchandise from these firms.

A wide range of market factors has conspired to seduce fashion-conscious individuals into condoning the harmful business practices of leading fashion houses and distributors. By raising awareness with The True Cost and other similar films, ecological and human rights activists can impel the public at large to change its buying habits. The wrongs of global capitalism can be set right by pressure from private citizens exercising their freedom of choice: a necessary and powerful feature of our modern economic system. But this corrective element of the marketplace can only come to the fore if people get the information they need to evaluate and reconsider their personal habits.

 

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