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We buy too many clothes, and we pay too little for them. That’s the message of 'The True Cost.'
Last week I was lucky to attend the Sydney screening of new fashion documentary The True Cost.
Filmed all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest slums, The True Cost is about the impact of fashion on people and the planet.
It invites us on an eye opening and at times heartbreaking journey around the globe and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes.
"The harrowing juxtaposition of the desperate workers against footage of our greed and desperation for a cheap deal" drives home how out of touch we truly are with 'who made our clothes', said our Social Media Coordinator Amy who also came along to watch.
From the malformed children of pesticide sprayers in India's cotton belt, to gruesome shots of the deadly 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, polluted rivers frothing with chemicals, and mountains of discarded clothing in Haiti - the true cost of fast-fashion and our patterns of overconsumption becomes clear.
[Images True Cost film stills]
Here are a few things I learned from the film (which cannot be unlearned):
1. The fashion industry is the world's second-largest polluter.
Right behind the oil industry!
2. The world now consumes a staggering 80 billion pieces of clothing each year.
This is up 400% from two decades ago.
3. One-in-six people work in the global fashion industry.
A majority of these workers are women earning less than $3 per day.
4. 250,000 Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves in the last 15 years.
Partly as a result of going into debt to buy genetically modified cotton seeds, courtesy of Monsanto.
5. Only 10% of the clothes people donate to charity or thrift stores get sold.
The rest end up in landfills or flooding markets in developing countries like Haiti where they are bought by the box and kill the local industry.
[Image UN Photo/Kibae Park]
Something from the film that stuck with me, was the sheer amount of hands a $5 t-shirt passes through before you buy it in the store.
Garment factory workers might be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about the backstory of a piece of clothing, yet The True Cost depicts a disturbing story that goes far beyond the factory walls - right back to the cotton-pickers who gather the bolls to be spun into fibre.
The film also features interviews with Stella McCartney, a designer renowned for her ultra-ethical stance, and Livia Firth, Oxfam Global Ambassador and founder of the Green Carpet Challenge, as well as other leading industry voices.
I caught up with Melinda Tually, Regional Co-ordinator for Fashion Revolution in Australia & NZ and Responsible Fashion & Fair Trade consultant, after the screening.
Mel believes the film is a great entry point for people into the discussion of how can we change the future of the fashion industry. The acknowledgement that there is a human experience in the supply chain:
It put the heart back into the issue, making it a human issue.- Melinda Tually, Regional Co-ordinator Fashion Revolution Australia & NZ
The human experience was strong as the film followed the lives of a sweatshop worker and her daughter, giving the audience an intimate experience representative of many sweatshop and industry workers around the world.
[Image True Cost film still]
"It is a collaborative effort" said Mel on changing the industry to better people and the planet. "I'm so passionate about educating the industry, and especially the buyers".
Mel grew up in a time that predated fast-fahsion. You didn't have $5 t-shirts, and would go op-shoping or save money to buy something of great quality that would last longer than a season.
This whole idea that we can't live without fast fashion is a myth...just because it's out there doesn't mean you have to buy into it!- Melinda Tually, Regional Co-ordinator Fashion Revolution Australia & NZ
The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Kit Willow (Designer & Founder of KITX), Janna Quaintance James (Ethical Sourcing Manager, David Jones) and Gershon Nimbalker (Co-Author Australian Fashion Report, Baptist World Aid Australia) to discuss the future of the Australian fashion industry in the wake of Rana Plaza.
Over 90% of clothing we buy in Australia is made off-shore.
Making the issues covered in The True Cost extremely relevant to us all. The panel highlighted just how complex these issues are, but reinforced that through a collaborative approach of multiple forces working towards the same end-goal, even if just through small steps to start, we can effect change on the industry.
In fact change is already happening as Gershon Nimbalker highlighted that since 2013 the Australian Fashion report has seen significant progress in how companies are taking action to ensure workers in their supply chains are not being exploited.
Some final advice from Melinda Tually, is always make sure you do your research before you buy an item of clothing. Make sure the brand supports your personal beliefs and a fairer future for all.
Treat your garments like an investment piece, the same way you would a dishwasher or car. You do your research into those items before buying because you hope to hold onto them for a long time. Clothing is no different.- Melinda Tually, Regional Co-ordinator Fashion Revolution Australia & NZ
Let’s back off this endless, constant purchasing and invest in clothes we love.- The True Cost Director, Andrew Morgan
So how do those $10 pants or $5 t-shirts look now?
To check out the film, go to truecostmovie.com.
Find out more about Fashion Revolution Australia & NZ