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‘The True Cost’: A powerful critique of the fast fashion industry

On Nov. 28, the “Fashion Ethics” class at Saint Mary’s showed a movie titled “The True Cost,” which showcases the negative impacts of fast fashion in a number of ways. The countries that are most affected by the industry are developing countries who fall victim to the unethical practices of corporations. 

The movie had individual storylines all connecting to a larger theme. The story of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsing illustrates the greed of these corporations. The voices of the workers’ concerns were ignored and they were forced to come into work, leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 individuals. This tragic event shows how far the businesses were willing to go in order to ensure the lowest manufacturing cost possible. 

The workers in Bangladeshi garment factories are some of the lowest paid in the world. According to The Borgen Project, these workers make an estimated $25 to $75 each month. The low pay is often defended by corporations who say the workers make more money than they could at other places. 

The documentary responds to their statement by showing fashion designers who are changing the standards of the fashion industry. The stories highlighted the fashion designers who advocated for fair-trade products, which ensures that products are made to promote sustainability and in safe working conditions. 

The idea of fair-trade applies to everyone who contributes to the fashion industry. The documentary focused on rights for the garment workers but additionally for the farmers. Larhea Pepper, a Texas farmer, ended up in this profession because it was what her family did. Her husband Terry grew up on a chemically intensive farm, and Terry’s father died from leukemia at the age of 57. Terry was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor at 48 and passed away two years later. Larhea advocated for the importance of organic farming due to the loss of her husband. She calls for a change in the agriculture industry because the switch to genetically modified seeds and further use of herbicides have unknown impacts. These new chemical processes do not have a lot of testing. 

The focus of this documentary was expansive, and considering the two years director Andrew Morgan spent creating this film, it makes sense. Still, narrowing the focus would have improved this movie.

The Bangladeshi garment workers’ stories were heart-wrenching to watch. The impact of their words and experiences enlightens viewers on how corporations are treating these workers. Often, the rampant consumerism of the West is not our price to pay, but developing countries showcase the inequality of fast fashion. 

The clothes that are donated to charity are, most often, not sold in the stores but instead sent off to developing countries. There is a certain unawareness in most consumers of how they are manipulated into buying these products, because the marketing industry uses the struggles people face as a tool.

In contrast to necessities such as housing and cars, the fast fashion industry produces cheap products. However, the marketing strategy for them is just one aspect of our culture that makes fast fashion so widespread.  It is also the media we consume, especially on platforms such as YouTube. The rise of clothing hauls as a popular form of content on social media further empowers fast fashion companies. The scene that struck me the most was the contrast of the suffering faced in Bangladesh compared with the violence of Black Friday sales. 

It raised the question of why we are allowing this to continue. Why are we allowing these people to be mistreated for cheap prices?


Title: “The True Cost”
Starring: Livia Giuggioli, Stella McCartney, Vandana Shiva, Richard D.Wolff
Director: Andrew Morgan
If you like: “Toxic Sludge is Good for You”
Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

Contact Rose at randrowich01@saintmarys.edu.