Ethically Impactful: 'The True Cost' Movie Review (Stream Now)

Last night, we were lucky enough to attend the debut of Andrew Morgan's new film, The True Cost at the IFC Theatre in New York City. This film, as you might guess, explores the true cost of the your clothes. The cost that goes beyond the price tag. The cost to people, to the environment, to our future.

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Walking through the doors of this small theatre known for its offbeat and indie films, we were welcomed with the typical smells of buttery popcorn and slouchy theatre seats, but what we were about to see transported us far beyond the comforts of this dimly lit space in the West Village. We saw workers laboring in factories in Cambodia and being persecuted for trying to organize in Bangladesh. We saw communities falling ill from pesticides used in cotton growth in Punjab and Texas. We saw consumers throughout America storming stores on Black Friday for, as Stephen Colbert sarcastically put it, "a Christmas shopping orgy that proves America is back."

Moments like these juxtaposed with the terrible conditions for farmers and garment factory workers struck a cord, depicting how the mass consumption of 'disposable fashion' perpetuates the modern fashion system. Even worse, some of the biggest players in the game are unapologetic. In the movie, the former sourcing manager of Joe Fresh stated outright that she doesn't feel bad for wearing clothes that she knows are produced in sweatshops because "there are a lot worse things [workers] could be doing." Note that this interview occurred after the Rana Plaza collapse in which Joe Fresh tags were found amongst the rubble. Though many big players are still failing to take actions towards becoming more sustainable, this film highlights one small company that is making strides in the right direction - People Tree - a fair trade brand that aims to respect both people and the planet.

As a whole, the film did a beautiful job of depicting a dark side of fashion that we rarely come into contact with, reaffirming that our mission to support and enhance conscious culture is not in vain. What it did not touch on was that this dark side is right on our doorstep. From the infamous El Monte factory scandal to recent exposes about Los Angeles sweatshops to artists like Betty Yu commenting on garment worker's conditions in New York, this is not a problem that occurs only overseas. It is a problem that happens right here in the US. 

The True Cost pushes us to reflect on how our everyday actions influence the modern fashion system, and makes us question what we can do about it.

We've compiled a few fast facts from the film and its panel discussion that were especially striking.

  • Three out of the four worst garment factory disasters in history occurred in the past three years. The largest being the Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1000 people.
  • The average American discards about 82 pounds of textiles a year, only 10% of which end up in thrift stores.
  • The garment industry is the second most polluting in the world, second only to oil. 
  • Children are often employed because their labor is cheaper, about 1/3 of an adult worker.
  • It takes about 700 gallons of water to make a cotton t-shirt.

Learn more and purchase the movie here!