The True Cost – Movie Review

Before I jump into this movie review, I want to say that this movie was disturbing.  I work in the fashion industry and this movie sheds light into the dark parts of the industry that are rarely spoken about.  Since I do work closely with my supply chain, I travel quite a bit to Asia but even I didn’t know the extent of exploitation that is going on until I saw this film.  That being said, I am going to try and leave the social commentary out and do a straight up review of this documentary.  Onwards!

The True Cost Movie Poster

The True Cost (2015)


The True Cost is a 2015 documentary by up and coming director Andrew Morgan.
The film delves into the raw material sourcing and manufacturing within the fashion apparel industry to uncover the true cost of fashion.  If you are not into documentaries this description may sound dry.  However, let me just throw some eye popping numbers that came from the filmmaker:

  • 1 out of 6 people in the entire world work in the fashion industry in some shape or form
  • The fashion industry is the number 2 polluting industry (number 1 is oil)
  • In the 1960s, 90% of the apparel was made in the USA; in 2015, less than 3% of the apparel is made in the USA with most being outsourced to developing countries
  • As early as 20 years ago, fashion brands would buy for 2 seasons; now fashion brands buy for up to 52 “seasons”

If you are at all interested in fashion whether that is through wearing it, reporting on it, or working in the industry, you should definitely consider watching this movie.

“We communicate who we are through our clothing.”

The film can be divided up into three sections: the evolution in fashion, the cost of this evolution, and the source of the issue.  The film opens by talking about why the fashion industry is important and how it has evolved over the years.  One clothing designer that was being interviewed succinctly put it as “we communicate who we are through our clothing.”

Due to this importance in our society, the fashion industry has grown and changed throughout the years.  Whereas before retail merchandisers would buy for 2 seasons (Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer), there is a push to increase buys up to 52 “seasons” so that almost every week there is something new and unique on the floor.  This trend has become known as fast fashion.

Rana Plaza collapse left over 1000 dead.

Rana Plaza collapse left over 1000 dead.

The question the film poses then is what is the cost of this new model of fast fashion?  Unfortunately, the answer is both complex and quite ugly.  The film jumps to various scenes set within developing countries where we see the social cost of mass producing at pennies per unit.  We are treated to images of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh where over 1000 garment factory workers died due to unsafe working conditions.  But the filmmaker doesn’t just highlight the social impact of fast fashion.  There is also an environmental impact.

According to the film, Americans discard 82 lbs of textile waste per year.  This non-biodegradable waste.  And if you think that giving your clothes to charity is the solution…think again.  The film points out that only 10% of the clothing that we give to charities is actually sold and reused within the USA.  The rest is packaged and sent to developing countries where it may be sold again or just discarded.

Additionally, due to the massive consumption and discarding, genetically modified crops and dangerous pesticides are being used to increase growth outputs beyond what some would deem prudent or reasonable.

Third Act

This is where I think the film falls flat.  The film’s pace throughout the process of identifying why the fashion industry is important and how it has changed  all the way to the journey through the staggering cost of this evolution is engaging and thought provoking.  However, I feel the film’s scattered approach as to what is the driving force behind this and what can we do about it was lacking and short changed.

Is the fault with the customers who are constantly consuming with a voracious appetite?  Or is it the greedy corporations who are getting rich off everyone and not putting anything back into the environment or society?  Or is it the government/culture/society at fault for constantly promoting capitalism which by its very nature (according to the filmmaker) only succeeds by constantly consuming.

The filmmaker seems to settle most of the blame on the government/culture/society as the cause or more accurately capitalism.  “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” must of been going through Mr. Morgan’s head.  Worse than that though the film doesn’t spend much time with what we can do to solve this problem.

The film closes with a disturbing and depressing montage of American Black Friday shoppers who are fighting for product while flipping back to desolate factory workers who appear hopeless and crushed.  So we asked some tough questions at the beginning of this cinematic journey and we get some half baked answers..and we are ultimately left with a doom and gloom message with no clear way to help.

Getting passed the depressing vibe of the ending, overall, I would recommend this movie.  It was eye opening and well put together.  Besides the short third act, I enjoyed the in depth look at the fashion world and I look forward to seeing what future films Andrew Morgan decides to tackle.

What’s the solution?

Okay, I said at the beginning I would try and keep the social commentary out so I am going to keep this short and sweet because I don’t want to be like this film and leave us all hanging on doom and gloom.  I think the problem is a combination of all three issues that the filmmaker identified: the consumer, the corporation, and the government.

Since I can only address the consumer: if you want to make a direct impact, then you should shop for apparel that you will use at least 20+ times.   Don’t buy cheap quality clothing that will only last one or two wear cycles.

Some may suggest that consumers should buy fair trade goods or “Made in America” products.  But let’s face it, consumers don’t want to spend what sometimes appears to be an exorbitantly higher price for goods that have a not easily noticeable quality difference.  For instance, a t-shirt that costs $50 because it’s fair trade doesn’t quite make sense to most consumers.

My suggestion if you want to make a noticeable impact: don’t buy what you don’t need and buy with the intent to use multiple times.

-Straight Take

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