Fast fashion is killing people and the planet at a staggering rate and yet demand from the Western world for the latest looks hasn’t slowed. Even after the Rana Plaza disaster, which killed 1127 people when the Bangladesh garment factory collapsed in April 2013, the industry hasn’t improved working conditions for its poverty-stricken employees.
In fact, production is increasing, with labels, like Mango, flooding shop floors with 12 collections a year. Inditex, the brand’s parent company, made a net profit of 854 million euros in 2015, representing an increase of over 12 per cent on the previous year.
But in the midst of this consumerist frenzy, a documentary, which was released last year, shows the human suffering that’s woven into every fast fashion garment. “The True Cost,” directed by Andrew Morgan, shows the terrible human and environmental impact of the clothing industry.
Where did the idea for the documentary come from?
I had just finished my last film when I was having my morning coffee and looked at the cover story of The New York Times. It was the tragedy of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, which left 1127 dead. After reading the article, I was absolutely shocked and began to consider where my clothes originated. I began reading, observing and talking to anyone who could tell me more about the industry. And then I became convinced that this was the topic of a movie I wanted to do.
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How did you begin researching and how difficult was this process?
It was an intense period. I was helped by many experienced people from around the world, which were also very generous. A documentary like this had not been done before, so many people who had been investigating and involved in activism were eager to help. It was very difficult in the sense of scope and scale, as production took place in 13 countries around the world and for this reason, putting your head and heart in such tough issues as we saw, was sometimes overwhelming.
Speaking of which, what terrible things did you discover during the production of “The True Cost”?
I learned and found several striking pieces of data. The fashion industry is more dependent on labor worldwide than any other industry and it is also the second most polluting industry. It generates three trillion dollars a year from, essentially, underpaid workers. But what changed my life was seeing the terrible impact on the lives of people – that was unforgettable. When you see the lives of others closely it is hard to ignore and put those feelings aside.
Do you think “The True Cost” may change the way we consume fashion?
The real purpose of a documentary like this is to open a necessary debate. We are starting to see the full effects of this system around the world. “The True Cost” is available in nearly 100 countries and the response has been overwhelming. Talking about it is the key to giving a serious look at what is wrong and what can be done right now.
What would you say to people who cannot consume sustainable clothing?
In Asia, Africa and Latin America it is almost impossible to find something that is on-trend and designer at a good price. People cannot spend much on clothes, because it is not a priority, so these brands are very well positioned.
This is a great question and a challenging idea. I would urge people to understand that these low prices are really not worth the real cost. We must find ways to support the local industry, so that puts quality over quantity. With this premise, you can buy something better, because it will last longer.
But how can shoppers influence the multi-billion dollar fashion industry?
It all starts in your personal decisions. The people around you will notice these elections and you can make a change in your community. We also need to continue demanding more transparency and accountability from brands. When someone buys online at a “fast fashion” shop, you stray further from the people who are involved in this production chain.
Do you think the model will change?
I think what we will see, slowly, is a change that is generated by people buying better things. Big brands will realize and the industry will probably switch its chip. In a way, this is beginning to take place, but we need to keep pushing and making sure that more and more people in the production chain of fashion can have the opportunity to have a job that will improve their lives.