“The True Cost” is a documentary about fast fashion — a $3 trillion industry — and explores how the inexpensive clothing we buy at an alarmingly rapid pace directly influences how the items are made. Having such a low selling price means that production costs have to be even lower. This cheap and wildly successful business model has resulted in terrible work conditions, major environmental polluting and associated health effects that factory workers must endure due to these sordid environments. Directed by Andrew Morgan (“After the End”), it aims to educate viewers about the negative outcomes the fast fashion industry has on the planet, factory workers and consumers.
It’s alarming that even in light of these facts, the billion-dollar companies in question have done nothing to improve the working conditions, raise factory workers’ pay or make any effort to reduce the pollution their factories produce. “The True Cost” tells audiences about the 2013 Dhaka, Bangladesh factory collapse that killed more than a thousand workers. This tragedy was eminently avoidable if proper care would have been practiced to fix the cracked foundation of the building. Workers came to supervisors expressing their anxieties about the unstable building and some even went as far as to ask for the building to be fixed so they could work in a safe environment. However, rather than forgoing a day of work to secure and repair the building, managers inherently forced workers to stay, giving them an ultimatum — if they did not attend work, they would be fired. Later that same day, the building completely collapsed.
Morgan interviews numerous garment factory workers from Bangladesh, a hub for Western fashion brands to produce their goods. The interviews illustrate both the working culture of these factories and how truly miniscule each worker’s pay is, often as low as $2 a day. Garment factory workers are predominantly women and their workdays can sometimes exceed 16 hours. In countries where work is hard to find for (largely uneducated) women, factory work is often the only option. Surrounded by chemicals and hot conditions, these factories are near-toxic environments for the worker and the land surrounding them.
“The True Cost” brings to light major facets of the fast fashion industry to showcase that the cheap clothing items are dangerous beyond the affordable price tag. How did business come to value cheap clothing more than human life and the environment? Fast fashion.
The rise of fast fashion — think stores like Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and Topshop — is redefining what fashion is and means. These stores produce new clothing at such an alarmingly fast rate that the clothing you purchased from these fast fashion giants last week can already be out of style. Like anyone else who has shopped at these stores, the ease and appeal stems from purchasing many items for the cost of one brand name item.
Marketing campaigns promoting fast fashion businesses have influenced consumers that quantity is more important than quality. I will admit, even I’ve completely fallen victim to fast fashion, as has most of the world, who collectively purchase more than 80 billion pieces of clothing.
“The True Cost” prompts viewers: Is this ideation of quantity over quality still appealing when natural resources and human lives are at stake?
My answer after watching: It’s complicated.
This documentary seeks to educate viewers about the backend of the fashion industry and why we all need to learn the importance of valuing the clothing you own. To value one’s clothes does not necessarily mean to stop shopping at these fast fashion stores. Rather it means to buy items there that you know you will wear a lot and appreciate them. Instead of owning six similar pieces, own a couple and take care of those items — whether that means spending more money on a higher quality piece rather than three inexpensive items that are obviously made cheaply the decision is on you. We as shoppers can choose quality over quantity, or we can choose to promote dangerously unethical practices through clothing that will not withstand time and wear.
Style is not about the brands you own or the amount of clothes in a closet, it is about consciously making sustainable choices by investing in pieces that are adaptable to different styles and will be worn over and over.
As consumers we need to completely reprogram how we think about and how we understand shopping. The too good to be true, low-priced items found at these fast fashion giants may have instant appeal, but taking into consideration the short lifespan of the clothing and the negative impacts associated with the manufacturing, the price you pay is much higher than the sticker.
You can find this fast fashion documentary on Netflix or here.