The True Cost

The True Cost is a film that changed the way I will see clothing forever. After I got home, I had a look at my overflowing wardrobe and wondered about all the individual people that made most of the clothing I hardly even wore. My H&M coat suddenly felt hot and heavy.

CNBC said, “The True Cost attacks the business of fast fashion”. The documentary follows some of the many reaches the fashion industry has over our planet, from production in third world countries, the huge wastage of unwanted clothes, growing of cotton and use of pesticides and the psychology behind why our society provides the demand for this fast fashion. Inspired by the 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,000, and two others that same year that left the death toll at 1,500, The True Cost aims to spread awareness about the global dangers of fast fashion,


The film takes a personal approach by following Shima, a twenty-three year old in Bangladesh, around her daily life as a garment factory worker. When Shima began work at the factory, she made $10USD a month. After trying to form a union to implement fair working conditions, Shima and the rest of the union were locked in the factory and beaten. Shima’s story also tells how she has a daughter who she has to leave with family and friend in a village outside of Bangladesh, as she has to work long hours at the factory. She cannot take her daughter with her to the factory, as it is too hot and the air is filled with poisonous chemicals.

With such a huge production of cheap clothes, the film believes consumers are taught fast fashion is needed to be bought regularly to make us happy, and is easily disposable. However, once consumers are finished with their clothes, they end up in landfills where they can take hundreds of years to decompose and release harmful toxins into the environment. Only 10% of clothing from opshops is sold or donated, and the rest has no place in our first world society.

The True Cost shows how the environmental impact fast fashion creates is also disastrous to factory workers, with chemicals infiltrating the water supply and contaminating animals and crops. Many people in cities where garment factories operate have similar disabilities and birth defects, with cancers and liver disease prevalent through inhalation of chemicals and ingestion of contaminated water and food.

With demand for more clothing increasing, the documentary shows how the demand for cotton is rising too. To keep up with the large amounts of  cotton being used, genetically modified plants and huge amounts of pesticides are being used. The more pesticides are used on plants, the more they’re needed to be used in future to have the same effect. Many cotton farmers are being diagnosed with similar brain cancers between the age of 45-60, which may have some link to the excess inhalation of chemicals.

The film delves deep into the harm the fast fashion industry is causing our planet, however director Andrew Morgan doesn’t want to solely blame huge fashion houses like H&M, Zara and Forever 21.

“I don’t want to put all the blame [on] the back of fast fashion,” he said. “It did not invent a very irresponsible way of manufacturing, it did not invent overmarketing the consumption of things. … It just came in and took it about as far as we could possibly go.”

If there’s one thing viewers can take from this film, it’s to be more conscious about the choices they make as a consumer. We have so many wonderful labels in Adelaide, many of which are ethically produced. Amy Roberts of Vege Threads wants to help promote the local fashion community, and encourage local labels to produce ethically.

“There are some great small labels based here so with the right information and community support, I feel we could be at the forefront for ethical clothing industry.”

Some other local ethical labels are funky t-shirt brand Fools and Trolls, and not-for-profit organisation My Sister’s Scarf that sells scarves made by disabled artisans in rural India.

Thank you to Beneath The Seams for hosting this screening.

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