Currently Viewing: The True Cost

When The True Cost was released earlier this year, the reviews raised some concerns about what the film did not do.  While the filmmaker did a good job of showing the various problems – environmental, social, and economic – of fast fashion, there were few solutions to the problems offered.  The film also focuses solely on fast fashion, when the reality is that the problems associated with textile and clothing production is not limited to that one sector of the industry.

I was able to see The True Cost because it just became available on Netflix.  It is also available on iTunes and Amazon Instant, so if you have any of these services, it is worth watching.  No, the film is not perfect, but it is a good view of many of the problems the world faces due to “fashion.”

As I watched the film, I was pretty much overwhelmed by the amount of human suffering that is caused by the clothing industry.  The filmmaker, Andrew Morgan, follows one woman in Bangladesh, telling the story of how she has to take her small child to live with her parents in their village while she is working in a sewing factory in the city. It is very effective.   I was also amazed at the massive piles of textile waste.  It really does make you stop and think.

But where the film goes astray is in offering solutions.  I was almost left with the impression that if we all just stopped being consumers, then the problems would just go away.  One of the persons interviewed (who is a 9/11 truther, though that was not brought up in the film) even said that the only solution was to abolish capitalism.  He may be right, but how likely is it that either of these things is going to happen?

After watching the film I was left with a feeling that I never wanted to go shopping again.  But the film was not really aimed at me because I’m not much of a consumer of fashion.  I sew most of my clothes using mainly fabrics that I’ve bought secondhand.  The message of The True Cost is not hitting its intended audience, the consumers of fast fashion.   The people who might really be influenced by the film are unlikely to see it.  Several teenage girls were shown in the movie posting their “haul” videos, in which they get on YouTube and brag about all the cheap stuff they just bought.

Maybe there should be a second version in which two cute and famous young celebrities narrate and feature in the film.  Then it might be more likely to get the audience that it needs.  In the meantime, The True Cost is preaching to the choir.

21 Comments

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21 responses to “Currently Viewing: The True Cost

  1. Interesting. I haven’t seen the film yet so can’t offer my critique of it. But my experience of campaigning on overwhelming and shocking issues that have not received much mainstream exposure tells me that you have to begin somewhere. And that somewhere may not be to inform the audience you think might have the most impact on the situation – here, the youthful consumers of disposable fashion – but a broader, possibly older audience, because the information has to begin to filter down from somewhere. And that might as well be a more mature, more thoughtful audience.

    Offering solutions is also tricky, as everything depends on an informed audience to begin to consume a little more thoughtfully. Without their input, a market will not emerge. Boycotting all mass-market clothing and the processes of capitalism is one extreme response, but won’t help those beleaguered garment-workers – that way they’ll have no livelihood at all. Insisting on fair working conditions for those individuals, plus a willingness to pay more for a sustainably sourced product, may help however. And that’s where a slightly more discriminating consumer, willing to pay a little more for a garment produced in less abusive circumstances, may make all the difference. Organisations such as Fashion Revolution and Labour Behind the Label (part of the Clean Clothes Campaing) are offering ways to approach the issues raised in the film, so for anyone who has had their consciousness raised by it and wants to know what actions they might take, I’d recommend looking at their sites.

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  2. Will keep my eye out for this, Lizzie. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

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  3. I can’t resist recommending the book, Overdressed, by Elizabeth Cline, which you reviewed so well when it came out: https://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/currently-reading-overdressed/
    I am old enough to remember houses without walk-in closets, or the need for them. The constant articles about “wardrobe planning” and “coordinating” in magazines of the fifties and sixties (and much earlier) is a reminder that we paid more for clothing, had fewer clothes, and gave a lot more thought to our purchases. Also, my friends and I really did “look for the Union label.”
    An art quilt made by Therese Agnew in 2005 was made up of clothing labels from all over the world, collected and mailed to her. You can see it here: http://www.tardart.com/html/ptw.php Sadly, the finished art work was 98″ by 110″, and her website doesn’t show any closeups that allow you to realize how many thousands of labels she used. I contributed some of those labels — I was a shock to realize how many of my husband’s Land’s End shirts came from countries in Asia; Agnew’s project had a lasting impact on me.

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  4. This film would seriously make me cry, just based on the trailer. It is so difficult to deal with people who don’t understand where their clothing comes from, and to try and explain it to people is incredibly annoying, and they brush it off, like it’s no big deal. But I still feel a need and obligation to watch this, to better arm myself with facts about this issue. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Lizzie, this topic has been on my mind as well. I’ve also not gotten past the trailer yet. I did watch this one that followed the collapse of factories in Bangladesh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onD5UOP5z_c (Made in Bangladesh, the fifth estate)

    I have enjoyed sewing clothing for myself and my children for the past 16 years. It is a passionate hobby for me. I understand the time and effort it takes to create a piece of clothing. Naturally, sewing your own clothing leads to desiring materials that last much longer than a season and a closet with fewer pieces of clothing. For me, it’s been an eye-opener and an alert to our blind spot to see the people who work in factories making clothing for so little pay and in poor conditions. I’m concerned about the people who create not only the finished clothing articles, but those working on the fabrics we consume.

    On a related note, my blogging husband shared just yesterday on the enormous quantity of clothing that we Americans evidently are going through and disposing each year. See, http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com/2015/08/yikes-and-huh.html

    I appreciate your thoughts on this, Lizzie.

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    • I agree that the numbers that Levi’s quoted seems to be overly large. I know that in my case, I do not discard anywhere near 83 pounds of textile waste in a year. But I have a feeling my consumption is much lower than average.

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  6. My son’s sixth grade teacher had them do an extensive unit on this and to this day (he’s 22) he says it’s why he prefers more expensive clothing that’s not made (as best as he can tell) in the worst sweatshops. Myself, I have become quite the fan of second hand clothes though not vintage for the most part. Funny yesterday I was chatting with a Delhi-born woman who said she can only wear second hand clothing that comes from someone she knows because of her caste-conscious Indian upbringing. Doesn’t mind second hand housewares but not clothing, ever.

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  7. Karin W.

    I haven’t seen it, but I probably should. I hardly ever buy modern off-the-rack clothes, though, so I’m in the choir, too. I tend to advise people to buy fewer but more expensive, more well-constructed and more ethically made garments, have things adjusted to fit professionally and get clothes and shoes mended instead of throwing things out as soon as a seam breaks or a sole needs replacement. It’s not a solution, but it’s a fairly doable way of becoming a more thoughtful consumer, while also being happier with your wardrobe. Having small fit adjustments done makes clothes feel so much better, and so many people, especially women, seem to be so used to blaming their bodies for any fit issues they have with readymade garments, instead of just stating that standard size garments often don’t fit their individual bodies very well (well, of course!) and having them adjusted.

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    • Part of my problem with the film is that it puts too much of the solution in the hands of consumers. Yes, we do consume too much, but simply saying, “Don’t buy so much stuff,” is not going to solve all the problems.

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  8. Back when I was teaching, I showed the documentary “China Blue” to my fashion history classes. It always encouraged good discussions. These kinds of films do preach to the choir, but perhaps the choir is getting slowly bigger.

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  9. What’s NEW? !!? Worldwide GREED – the Shirtwaist Factory in NYC (circa1800’s)…The Interior Design/Housewares ” fashion ” world is even worse! Every time you pick up a pillow/ Christmas ornament everywhere WE shop ! I sometimes stop and remember some of the “factories” I have seen – or think of the conditions it could have been made…….and the poor Soul that made it….next time you buy a fake designer bag …WE are the choir! THANK YOU LIZZIE as always for making it REAL!

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  10. Christina

    Change is happening albeit slowly in the fashion industry. For those of us who keep challenging illegal social and environmental practices, raising consciousness through social media will help the process of change. A recent article described how in Bangladesh where the garment industry is reliant on water manufacturing companies have invested in technology to create better, sustainable production without wasting precious water. I am optimistic that future generations can influence change.

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  11. Pingback: Quilt Portrait of Bangladeshi Textile Worker by Terese Agnew | witness2fashion

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