FASHION’S THE TRUE COST
By Naomi Barling

Amongst all the talks on who was wearing what at Cannes film festival this year, a provocative new documentary was being shown in hopes of starting a revolution or even just a conversation about the human and environmental cost of fast fashion. From workers in Bangladesh to cotton farmers in Texas, by way of India, Cambodia and Fifth Avenue, the film explores the true state of the fashion industry.

The True Cost is a film about the repercussions of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, in which 1,130 workers died in 2013. Directed by Andrew Morgan the film is also the latest defense in Livia Firth’s fight with what she calls the “evil machine of fast fashion”.

The Kickstarter-funded film examines the ever-expanding fashion industry, from the companies that exploit underpaid workers to the pesticides involved in cotton production that affect the environment and health of those people who make our clothes. Along with executive producer Livia Firth who is the creative director of brand consultancy Eco-Age, director Andrew Morgan hopes the film will educate consumers and businesses to the unsustainability of increased mass production.

“I think we’re at a point where people are ready,” said Morgan of how he hopes the film will affect audiences. “I think we’ve left people ignorant for a long time.” Morgan himself admits he didn’t think about supply chain issues before making this film. This viewpoint gives the film’s difficult and multidimensional subject an accessibility.

Morgan believes that every person can help make a change to the damage of mass consumerism causes. “It’s important to bring it down to people’s level, and that’s what clothing does,” he said. “What if we started by slowing down and not consuming so much stuff, just because it’s there and cheap and available. It’s amazing how that process makes sense financially, it makes sense ethically, it makes sense environmentally.”

Due to there being a lot of legal involvement in the film although it makes some important points about how big brands treat the environment, and the people they employ, it is very careful not to place the blame on any one company. The aim was to make a film that was not just a name and shame. “If we make one company look like the villain, then we excuse ourselves from any responsibility.” Says Morgan.

The directing duo stress that people love of fashion should not make people feel guilty but instead help create a constructive conversation. They actually say, they want people to enjoy clothes more. “When you buy something that you really desire, you care for it in a different way,” said Firth, who was wearing a dress of her mother’s from 1964. “You make an investment, and this is what our wardrobe should be made of: investment pieces that last for ever, not throwaway pieces that we don’t care about.”
Morgan added, “People should love the clothing they wear. Enough of this so-so. Love what you’re wearing and hold on to it.”

Undoubtedly a controversial subject, Morgan’s direction of it is at times distressing and certainly depressing but he manages to avoid lecturing by allowing his audience to also feel hopeful and to see evidence that each of us can act as a catalyst for change and work together towards a greater planet and the a happier life for all the people in it.

The film is a collage of interviews with survivors of the Rana Plaza disaster, garment workers and factory owners in Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and China; and with US cotton farmers. Individually their stories are horrifying, featuring families separated, diseased, disabled and desperate. These hard hitting stories make the case for the immediate need for a different global attitude and change.

“We must respect these workers as we do our children; our friends,” Firth says in the film. “They are no different to us.

Starring Stella McCartney, there was a long line of fashion elite at the premiere in The Curzon, Bloomsbury. Firth’s husband Colin, Tom Ford and Richard Buckley where all there to support along with Bianca Jagger, Annie Lennox, Stephen Jones and Natalie Massenet who have all acted in support of Firth’s fight over the last decade.

“I think the situation today is so messed up that we’re all in it in some way,” said Firth. “We’ve been brainwashed to think that we have to consume at such a fast pace. But as consumers, we need to realize how powerful we are. Every time we buy something, we actually vote, and if the brand still wants a business that is profitable in 15 to 20 years, they have to address the environmental impact and the social injustice. Because it’s only going to get worse.”

The film will be screened Thursday night at the IFC Center in New York, with public showings beginning Friday, it will also be in London, Los Angeles and Tokyo and available on iTunes and Netflix. You can see more information on the projects here.

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