New Documentary Examines the True Cost of Our Obsession With Fast Fashion

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
©. True Cost movie

"The True Cost: A Fashion Documentary" shows that there's a human price to pay for bargain shopping. Prepare to be shocked.

Consumptionism: The act of getting customers to treat things they’d normally use for a long time (i.e. appliances, houses, vehicles) as things they use up (i.e. food, alcohol, cosmetics).

There was a time when fashion belonged in the former category, but over the past twenty years, an astonishing change has taken place in the way people buy and use clothing. Clothes have gone from being an expensive long-term investment to cheap disposables.

The cost of such a shift has far-reaching repercussions that most shoppers in North America and Europe do not comprehend. A new documentary film, released May 29 and directed by Andrew Morgan, attempts to educate people about what our obsession with fast fashion is doing to the planet and to ourselves. The True Cost: A Fashion Documentary will forever change the way you view clothes.

The garment industry is so huge that it employs an estimated 1 out of every 6 people in the world. There are 40 million garment factory workers. Four million work in Bangladesh in 5,000 factories, sewing clothes for major Western brands. More than 85 percent of these workers are women earning less than $3 per day.

While garment factory workers are likely the first thing that pops into your mind when thinking about the backstory of the fashion industry, The True Cost tells a disturbing story that goes far beyond the factory walls.

There are the cotton farmers in India, where suicide rates have reached an all-time high due to impossible levels of debt as a result of the genetically modified Bt cotton seeds, courtesy of Monsanto. There are the children of those families who are born deformed and mentally deficient as a result of pesticide exposure. So, too, the cotton farmers of the United States, many of whom are dying of cancer. Cotton is, after all, the most pesticide-intensive crop in the world.

The environmental devastation caused by manufacturing is horrific, from the chromium contamination of vast regions of northern India by tanneries, to the brimming landfill sites of America, where 11 million tons of clothes are thrown away annually, left to rot and produce methane gas.

Local industries have been destroyed by the rise of fast fashion, from domestic manufacturing in the U.S. (down from 95 percent in the 1960s to 3 percent now) to the textiles industries of the Caribbean and Africa, which are swamped with America’s donated cast-offs, a.k.a. giving to charity.

And we, the insatiable, deal-sniffing, stuff-obsessed consumers, continue to perpetuate the cycle by supporting fast fashion – the relatively new breed of the fashion industry that is to blame for this global devastation – while growing poorer by spending hard-earned money on cheap clothes that aren’t built to last.

To be honest, this is the most moving documentary I’ve watched in a long time and I highly recommend it. Find out how to watch it here.