Energy, Pollution, and Human Beings: The True Cost of Fast Fashion

 In WCS Blog
By Maria Ava
With the holiday shopping season upon us, there’s no better time to consider your fashion choices — and the impact they have on people and planet. Maria Ramos sheds light on this in her review of a new film that takes a close look at the fashion industry.

Fast fashion is a relatively new phenomenon within the fashion industry. It calls for the fast turnaround of new designs from the runway to the storefront, to meet the high demands of the latest fashion trends. It drives consumption with its low prices and disposable clothing items. But it strains manufacturers, who have to cut worker safeguards to compensate for cutting costs, and workers, who have to accept wages as low as $2 a day for long hours in the factories.

A groundbreaking documentary directed by Andrew Morgan, produced by Michael Ross, and filmed around the world, The True Cost examines the immense impact on humans and the environment of American shopping habits in pursuit of fast fashion. The film contrasts to great effect the glittering clothing store facades, fashion design offices, and fashion runways with the reality of manufacturing such our clothing. It follows a young woman factory worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh whose job forces her to leave her daughter back with her family in her village. The production end of manufacturing clothing is illustrated with the horror of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, with its 1,100 worker fatalities. On the clothing disposal end, landfills in Haiti overflow with discarded garments that overwhelm the local clothing industry. In contrast to fast fashion, a fair trade clothing line illustrates what can be done to produce clothing in good conscience.

Next come scenes delving into the raw materials that go into making clothing. In Punjab, India, cotton farmers are driven to suicide by the cost of Monsanto seeds that impoverish them more every year, until their land itself is forfeit. Indian leather producers live with polluted land and water that cause disease and birth defects among their children. In Texas, a cotton farmer goes organic to escape from Monsanto’s Roundup effects after her husband succumbs to a brain tumor. Interspersed with these scenes are interviews with influential figures like environmentalist Vandana Shiva, sustainability consultant Livia Firth, fashion designer Stella McCartney, journalists, professors, economists, and many more.

The True Cost aims to draw back the curtain that conceals the devastating consequences to both humans and the environment of the low-priced, fast fashion trend – whose purpose is solely to push merchandise to enrich companies. Nearly 11 million tons of non-biodegradable clothing is disposed of by the U.S. every year. This clothing will lie in landfills for years, possibly leaching toxic chemicals from dyes and fabric treatments into the groundwater. Plus, because of the sheer size of the textile industry and the high-intensity production of materials, EPCOR reports that textile manufacturing is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, accounting for about 10 percent of global emissions. The textile industry second only to the oil industry in the pollution it causes.

Viewers of the film might not have known all this. They might not have known that our clothing is manufactured under unsafe factory conditions. They might not have known that the cotton for our clothing is grown with toxic pesticides that cause disease and suicidal impoverishment, or that leather exports leave workers’ families with birth defects and depression.

By presenting this information, the film prompts viewers to question the real worth of disposable fashion and its materialistic basis – and perhaps even to change their buying habits.

The True Cost will leave you with the knowledge that people have had their hands on every stage of a garment’s creation, that their lives matter, and that we need a fundamental change to the heedless materialism at the core of our economic system.
Viewers moved to change their purchasing habits can take further action by buying better from “slow” fashion companies that work for a more sustainable and transparent fashion industry – such as Patagonia, People Tree, Zady, and Everlane. We can each make a difference in our daily lives, and help keep fast fashion from destroying the environment and people all around the world.

Maria Ava is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

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I'm the WCS web designer. I started my freelance design firm Rosstamicah Design in 2008 after working as web principal for various companies, and have built sites for many companies in the renewable and energy industries.
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