The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Last year, I began a minimalist wardrobe project, with the goal of buying fewer items of clothing over the months and years to come. In the process, I found myself evaluating my clothes more meticulously, shopping for styles and fabrics with longevity and versatility. But there was one factor I didn't really consider: where do my clothes come from? 

Thanks to a reader's recommendation, I recently watched The True Cost, a documentary about "fast fashion" and its drastic ethical and environmental implications. Clothing production has increased by 400% in the last decade, largely due to the growth of fast-fashion sellers like H&M, Zara, Topshop and other retail giants offering an ever-changing selection of cheap, trendy clothes. The film takes us to sweatshops in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the site of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1,000 garment-industry workers. One female worker, who began her job with a monthly salary of $10, reveals that after she attempted to organize a union to advocate for safe and equitable working conditions, she and other employees were locked up in the factory and beaten. In a particularly emotional scene, she states, "I believe these clothes are produced by our blood."

The documentary also examines the frightening toll of fast fashion on the planet. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil. The toxic chemicals used to produce fabrics have caused a surge of health issues and birth defects. Donating our clothing, which often eases our consciences, is not a viable solution; the film reports that the majority of donated clothing ends up in landfills or is shipped out to developing countries, destroying their local garment businesses. 

One of the main reasons I took a huge step back from blogging and social media is that my blog was promoting a form of consumerism that I had come to question. The affiliate program I joined, from which I have since unaffiliated myself, is a huge advertising engine for fast fashion, perpetuating "haul culture" and incentivizing members to "create a sense of urgency" (their words, not mine) in marketing items to readers. I enjoy fashion. However, it's a little perverse that people are being paid handsomely to say "I bought this shirt!" while the people who made the shirt aren't paid enough to live with dignity. When I decided to live with less stuff, I realized that social media was constantly bombarding me with messages to buy more.

No love of clothing should override one's regard for human welfare or the environment. The True Cost offers few solutions to the issues it exposes, and from a little research, I understand that the solutions are far more complicated than simply replacing one kind of consumerism with another. We need to consume less, and policies need to change. We can't ignore the argument that sweatshops lift people out of extreme poverty, even if we question its soundness. But we are all consumers, and it's undeniable that the small decisions of many people -- shopping 10% less, demanding transparency, finding ethical and sustainable alternatives to fast-fashion fabrics and practices -- can make a positive difference. 

As I research more into these issues, I also hope to reconcile my love of fashion with my responsibility to reduce my own consumption. I highly recommend the documentary; its message is easy to ignore but, for me, impossible to forget.

5 More Documentary Films


The obsession continues: here are five more documentaries I can't stop recommending to everyone I know. In case you're all caught up on "Serial" and in need of another true story to get lost in, these are full of tricky questions and stranger-than-fiction stories. 

In Stories We Tell, actress and writer-director Sarah Polley pieces together her deceased mother's secret past to answer a delicate question: did her mother have an affair, and is she the child of that affair?  Through interviews with family members and her mother's old acquaintances, Polley explores how we reach "the truth" about someone based on faulty memories and contradictory stories. 

Best Kept Secret focuses on a class of autistic young men who will soon graduate out of the school system. Its star is one passionate teacher, Janet Miro, who works doggedly to ensure her students' livelihoods once they graduate. The film offers an honest and touching glimpse at a minority group that is too often overlooked.

This year, "catfish" earned another official definition in Merriam-Webster: a "catfish" is "a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes." In Catfish, Nev Shulman uncovers the reality behind his own romantic online relationship with a young woman. The story is so bizarre that you can forgive the cinematography's amateurish, vlog-style quality. 

In Inequality for All, professor and former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explores the severe income disparity between the extremely wealthy and everyone else in the US. Trust me, it's not as boring as it sounds. Though the issues at stake are politically charged, Reich approaches them in a fair and well-reasoned way. 

The Imposter tells the sensational true-crime story of an American family whose 13-year-old son goes missing. Three and a half years later, the family receives a phone call from Spain that their son is alive. Though the family identifies the boy as their own and brings him back home, the FBI begins to suspect the boy's unstable story. Is the boy the family's missing son, and if not, why is the family so convinced he is?

If you've watched anything good lately, documentaries or otherwise, please share! I just started Fargo and I need to start saying "uff da" more often.

See my last documentary film recommendations right here!

5 Documentary Films

This month, documentary films have been a huge source of inspiration for me. These five told astounding stories and challenged me to think from different perspectives. I'm already going through this list in search of more documentaries to watch... what are your favorites?

This documentary tells the story of Tilikum, an orca at SeaWorld who has killed several humans while in captivity. In exposing SeaWorld's often cruel and dangerous practices of capturing and training orca whales, this film examines the fatal outcomes of trying to "tame" such intelligent creatures for entertainment purposes.

Into the Abyss
In this sorrowful and complex documentary, Werner Herzog visits a small town in Texas where a brutal murder occurred several years before. Herzog interviews the killers -- one sentenced to life in prison, the other sentenced to death -- as well as members of the victims' families and community. While approaching difficult questions about the motivations behind violent crimes, the possibility of repentance, and the death penalty, Herzog suggests that the boundaries between good and evil are often difficult to draw.

First Position
This uplifting documentary follows several young ballet students as they train for the prestigious Youth America Gran Prix competition. You'll find yourself rooting for the dancers, who come from very different backgrounds but all share a passion for dance.

Room 237
This documentary, which takes a close look at Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining, is probably one you'll either love or hate. The interviewees (film buffs and obsessive devotees) present varying analyses of The Shining: some are less than convincing, but others made me want to re-watch the film in search of hidden meanings. The discussion is engrossing for anyone interested in interpretive theory or film studies, if you can get past some of the strange video montages (which feature Tom Cruise...).

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers ever... you can read more about him here. In this documentary, he takes us to the Chauvet Cave in southern France to examine the earliest cave paintings known to mankind. The paintings, dating to around 30,000 years ago, are far more sophisticated than I imagined, and the scientific archaeology used to map the caves is equally incredible. 

PS: All of these documentaries were available for instant streaming on Netflix!