‘The True Cost’: Film Review

Andrew Morgan’s documentary details the devastating environmental and social effects of the increasingly pervasive “fast fashion” industry.

The only way to approach Andrew Morgan‘s documentary about the pernicious effects of the clothing trend known as “fast fashion” without feeling hopelessly guilt-ridden is to be naked while watching it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t have already contributed to the problem addressed in the film unless you’ve somehow managed to avoid purchasing inexpensive clothing from such pervasive retail outlets as H&M, the Gap, Zara, Walmart, Target and countless others. The film very convincingly makes the point that The True Cost of such bargains is very high indeed.

The Bottom Line

Will make you think twice about purchasing that cheap shirt 

The latest advocacy documentary that will either induce you into changing your ways or simply have you curling into a fetal position from despair, the film details the devastating effects on the people in third world countries who produce the cheap clothing and are essentially treated as disposable cogs in a cruel machine. While the issue has previously been addressed by such television personalities as Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, Morgan does the necessary work of a true muckraker, taking on one of the ubiquitous issues that we’d perhaps prefer to ignore — the kind that too often go untouched by major news organizations.

As with most films of this type, the statistics Morgan presents are damning: Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to oil; we now consume 500% more clothing than we did two decades ago; in 1960 America produced over 95% of its own clothing, while today the figure stands at 3%, with the rest outsourced to developing countries. 

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And those countries suffer to the extreme, with workers subjected to hazardous working conditions that have resulted in such tragedies as the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in which more than 1,000 employees were killed in the collapse of a factory building that had already been deemed unsafe. Such workers earn just a few dollars a day, a fact that doesn’t seem to bother a Joe Fresh clothing executive who points out that “there are a lot worse things they could be doing.”

The film also depicts the horrendous environmental damage resulting from the industry’s massive growth, from pesticide-infused cotton fields in India to massive landfills in Haiti (where a good portion of our donated used clothing winds up) to the abundance of chemicals dumped into the waters of developing countries that have led to a massive rise in cancer and birth defects.

It’s all horrifically scary, with few solutions presented despite the efforts of “fair trade” clothing manufacturers and such designers as Stella McCartney, who seems determined to incorporate environmental concerns into her business. Adding further to the despair of the film are clips from YouTube “clothing haul” videos in which young girls triumphantly display the cheap items they’ve purchased and — more familiarly — footage of frenzied consumers duking it out on Black Friday.

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Unfortunately, the overall effect is more despair-inducing than instructive, and so the film is sadly unlikely to affect the buying habits of consumers who have become — understandably — addicted to low retail clothing prices in difficult financial times. But hopefully more films like The True Cost will mark the beginning of a movement and not just a brief, painful journey into a world we’d rather forget. If films like Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation can begin to put a dent in the similarly harmful fast food industry, it’s certainly possible that this film will mark a step in the same direction for fast fashion.

Production: Life is My Movie Entertainment
Director/screenwriter: Andrew Morgan
Producer/editor: Michael Ross
Executive producers: Lucy Siegle, Livia Firth, Vincent Vittorio, Christopher L. Harvey
Composer: Duncan Blinkenstaff

Not rated, 92 min.