Fast fashion lovers worldwide get their cheap "fix" at high costs to the planet and garment workers in low-cost countries. And many are not aware that the weekly trends they indulge in have such negative consequences. The fast fashion industry has issues of unethical sourcing, human rights violations, and improper waste disposal.
Unlike regular fashion documentaries, a fast-fashion documentary shows the not-so-glamorous side of the fashion industry. It reveals the truth behind tragedies like the Rana Plaza collapse. Our shopping habits cost much more than money, from the loss of life to negative environmental impact.
To understand how much our cheap and trendy clothes costs, take some time to watch these 7 fast fashion documentaries.
The film revolves around the quest of Canadian designer Laura Siegel on a mission to launch her fall/winter collection on time while making sure each step is ethical and traceable.
One of the significant issues with fast fashion brands is their difficult-to-trace supply chains. In this documentary, Siegel tries to draw a visible line from her source to her finished designs. She interacts with the local Indian designers, negotiating time and price on terms favorable to both parties.
The film paints a beautiful picture of age-old crafts, their traditions, and the people who continue to practice them in our mechanized world.
Like most ethical fashion documentaries, this film features the opinion of an expert. Dr. Leo Bonanni explains traceability and transparency in the garment industry. He talks at length about how a social technology of his own design, "source-map," helps connect manufacturers to suppliers. Sourcemap is also designed to monitor, report and analyze social, financial, and environmental risks.
The documentary does well in capturing the essence of connectedness between designers and their suppliers; it shows the positive value of establishing such relationships. It establishes that a traceable supply chain can help reduce human costs in fast fashion.
In this documentary, producer Andrew Morgan lays out the issues of fast fashion methodologically. The true cost analyses fast fashion's human, social, and environmental costs. Andrew Morgan shares his journey across the globe, interviewing many different people. He interviews Stella McCartney, Vandana Shiva, and Livia Firth, amongst others. He talks to organic cotton farmers, seamstresses from Bangladesh, factory managers, activists, and fair trade economists.
The story of 23-year-old Shima is moving but sadly not unique. Shima moved to Dhaka when she was 12 to work in the garment factory, her attempt to fight for minimum wage for members of the workers union resulted in terrible consequences. Instead of a salary raise, the managers beat the female garment workers and attacked them with scissors.
The true cost also points out various fast fashion and luxury fashion industry practices that are destroying the planet.
Morgan shows creativity by juxtaposing the social media image of the fast-fashion clothing industry and its reality in this movie. He uses a subtle comparison of popular Youtube clothing haul videos and the gruesome images of pollution and suffering.
Produced by award-winning advertising creative and documentary filmmaker Alex James narrates this documentary. James was formerly a bassist for Blur, but he is now a food producer. He begins his narrative by asking five key questions; how can it be so cheap? What is it made of? Who made it? How long will you wear it? And where will it end up?
James experiments on two identical sweaters in the film, one made from wool, the other an acrylic. He set fire to both, the wool sweater burned but did not catch fire, but the acrylic sweater promptly caught fire and melted. He does this to show the importance of buying quality over cheap clothes.
He advises that consumers try to trace the origins of their clothing to determine whether it is made ethically or not. They should acquire basic knowledge about the brands they wear and their fabrics to do this. His opinion is that people should buy less clothing and choose those made with natural fibers and sustainable fabrics. He also encourages upcycling, buying from online thrift stores, and repairing fixable damages.
Watch Slowing Down Fashion on Amazon
This film gives an in-depth account of the human rights violations in China's blue jeans factory. Recorded clandestinely, it exposes the impacts of the rapid growth of the fast fashion industry on people at the production end. At the Li Feng clothes factory in Shaxi, Guangdong, we meet Jasmine, a teenage girl working to send money home to her family. She and her friends work from 8 am till 2 am the next day. For one hour of work, they make only about six cents. She and 12 other girls share a room in a crowded dormitory with no running water.
Her frustrations become even worse when her boss makes a deal with a western client that results in round-the-clock shifts for the workers. Mr. Lam, a former police chief and now factory owner, agrees to low prices and a tight delivery schedule to secure an order. The global economic system leaves Factory owners like him with few choices. Failure to meet his client's demand means they take their business to the next desperate factory owner.
"The Machinists" gets up close and personal with Bangladeshi garment workers, directed by Hannan Majid and Richard York. The documentary focuses on three women working in the garment factory. This film gives a name and face to the human rights violations surrounding western high street fashion.
The first person we meet is a young single mother who lives with seven other family members. She has two sisters who are also single mothers. They work 15 hours a day, sewing clothes for fast fashion companies, and are never sure the meager wages will be paid on time. The women complain about being made to work overtime without compensation.
Next, we are introduced to a young woman in her twenties who has been working in the factory since she was nine years old. She lives in isolation in a dark hovel with its padlocked rusty door as protection. As she crouches on the dirt floor to eat a dinner of potatoes and spices, she explains that her monthly salary is too little to afford meat. She earns only $45 US a month and is heavily indebted. Despite her challenges, she volunteers at the union office," we are like family...we take care of each other," she says.
Finally, we meet Mohammed and his wife, who works at the garment factory to support her husband. The couple works hard to educate their daughter, hoping that she can look after them when they are old.
The machinists of Bangladesh make their wish that people would buy clothes with conscience known in this movie.
This documentary takes you on a journey with conservationist Mark Angelo to some of the most vital rivers around the world. He examines rivers in Bangladesh, England, Zambia, China, India, Zambia, Indonesia, and the United States. In all these places, he finds evidence of pollution by the fashion industry. The documentary features interviews with conservationists from the local areas. Stuart Bunn, a water consultant, comments, "waterways have taken the brunt of development."
The chemicals dumped into rivers by the textile industries sometimes affect wildlife immediately for humans. However, the danger is almost negligible until it is too late. Angelo details two instances, one in which a man takes home fish that died from chemicals dumped in the river to feed his family. The second is where Indian farmers irrigate their crops with water from the polluted river Ganges. Both instances show how chemicals from clothing production end up in the human food chain.
Although the film paints a grim picture, it ends on a hopeful note. Angelo uses the River Thames to create a vision of how polluted rivers can become clean again if we make the right laws and enforce them. The documentary also highlights the work of some companies developing ground-breaking techniques that have the potential to minimize water pollution and waste in the textile industry.
Bringing together innovators in the fashion industry, the next black explores the future of clothing. In the documentary film, we see Rick ridgeway, an environmentalist and an executive at Patagonia. Matt Hymers is the project manager of Adidas' team elite system and co-founder and director of Studio XO. Next is Suzanne Lee, founder of BioCouture ltd, and Sophie Mather, the innovation director of the Yeh Group.
Yeh group is pioneering technology that uses less water to dye clothing; BioCouture uses living organisms to grow clothing material. Studio XO creates clothes that automatically change shape and color, and Adidas uses woven sensors to gather real-time performance data. Patagonia is a leading sustainable fashion brand. All these sustainable clothing brands are working towards reducing the fashion industry's environmental impact.
This documentary brings these people together for an open discussion, and it explores everyone's perspective. And highlights their efforts.
Watch The Next Black on Amazon
You may not think that any clothing item is worth dying for. But many people in countries such as India, Cambodia, and China risk their lives and health to supply fast fashion consumers worldwide. The truth is, when we allow our sense of style to be guided by any fast fashion Instagram influencer, we will consume more than we need. And therefore, waste resources and contribute to the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry.
These ethical fashion documentaries show a different face of fast fashion from what celebrity culture and social media portray. Watching these documentaries will open your eyes to the price our world pays for cheap clothes and how fast fashion proliferates them with little environmental concern. They will make you question and re-evaluate your shopping habits.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.