LA based filmmakers Andrew Morgan and Michael Ross longed to produce a film that explored global inequality, environmental destruction, and the role of business in the world. But how they'd make that film, left them puzzled.
According to Morgan, "It was always so broad, so it was like how do you make a film about this?"
On the morning of April 24, 2013, tragedy struck Dhaka Bangladesh. A building collapsed - killing 1,100 people working in various garment factories in the eight story Rana Plaza facility. The tragedy - which is now being recognized as the deadliest accidental building collapse in modern human history - instantaneously struck a chord with Morgan and Ross. Days later, they started work on their next film.
“Fashion is an industry that touches all aspects of the global world; business, labor, agriculture and more.” says Ross. “This is such a unique lens to look at these issues we’ve been wanting to explore, but a way of really connects the individual person,” says Morgan.
Just on the heels of Rana Plaza’s second anniversary, the film - cleverly titled The True Cost - opened to audiences on five continents and for download on iTunes and VOD. The True Cost examines "fast fashion" from every angle of the globe. Voices from the brightest runways to the darkest slums carry the audience through the production and popularization of "fast fashion". The documentary features interviews with leading influencers, including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth, and Vandana Shiva and gives an eye opening view into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes.
It’s imperative that we empower Millennials to take action for the sake of our planet and the well-being of those exploited by this industry. We can be a catalyst for widespread change, but it starts with awareness. In April, I sat down to interview Morgan and Ross for our newest series Solutionist 3.0. In part one of this three part series, I discuss the film and the business of fast fashion, and look at ways Millennials can be ethical consumers. Sign up to get the entire series delivered to you inbox.
The Birth of the $10 T-shirt: A Look at "Fast Fashion"
What is "fast fashion"? Before starting the The True Cost, Morgan and Ross openly admitted "fast fashion" wasn’t a part of their vocabulary. "I would pay less the $10 for a t-shirt which usually fell apart within a year and part of my cycle was I just had to buy a new one,” says Ross. “It’s just how it works.”
Unbeknownst to many of us, we're supporting "fast fashion". The term used to describe the process of moving clothing quickly from the catwalk to commercialization - "fast fashion" has reinvented the fashion industry making clothes faster and cheaper than ever before.
However tempting that $10 tee may be, there’s a long-term price to pay for being fashion forward.
“It has made a product that has incredibly low quality and incredibly low price point, resulting in low wages for garment workers and unsafe working conditions. It has vastly affected the amount we consume that product and it’s lead to a way of thinking about clothing that it’s a more of a disposable item then historically it was something we had and took care of”, says Morgan.
The True Cost of our Clothing
What's the meaning behind The True Cost? Morgan and Ross choose this title to communicate that clothing prices, don't always reflect what it actually took to make the garment.
This idea is revolutionary, Morgan says. “You have a piece of clothing that the labor was dramatically underpaid and you have a piece of clothing that took an enormous amount of natural resources to make. All of this is part of the cost. I grew up thinking this is just what it costs and to see if there’s this whole other world is startling.”
Startling indeed. Consumption has increased 400 percent in the last decade. With Americans throwing away on average 82 pounds of textiles a year, Morgans challenges Millennials to change their consumption habits and support brands who make people and plant a priority.
Fashion Responds to The True Cost
The True Cost is receiving positive reviews for it’s unfiltered look at "fast fashion". The New York Times calls it "an exploitation of the fashion industry." "Gut Wrenching and Alarming,"raves Elle Magazine. CNBC says, "The True Cost attacks the business of Fast Fashion."
While the film had yet to be released at the time of the interview, Morgan and Ross says they did encounter their fair share of critics while filming. I asked them to respond to the following statement about sweatshops by a former Joe Fresh executive; "They [garment workers] could be doing a lot worse. There's nothing intrinsically dangerous about sewing."
"That’s central to the story of globalization. The free market story is one that people in poor part of the world will get jobs they’re better than no jobs. I don’t think it is a zero sum ratio," says Morgan. "But beyond that there’s the growing amount of research suggesting that extreme exploitation in like we are seeing in the fashion industry, actually entrenches systems of poverty. And in many cases it leaves them worse off So I’d say that is a convenient story for people in places of power and it’s not always true."
"I don’t think anyone is against that from the stand point of what the film is talking about, but I think you have to come to reality your business model is at odds with the planet and peoples survival on the planet," says Ross.
What Happens if Our Consumption Habits don't Change
We're using two and a half worlds of natural resources. Fashion is one of the world's most resource-intensive industries in the world.
The world’s resources simply cannot keep up with the increasing demand for cheap clothing. According to TruCost, Cotton, for example, a key input to the apparel industry, is responsible for 2.6 per cent of the global water use. However, a gap already exists between water supply and demand. By 2030 the demand for water will exceed supply by 40%.
"You can’t keep consuming, increasing population count, new markets coming online, and consumer habits continuing to shoot through the roof without something breaking down," says Morgan. "We are getting to the end of the runway the faster we’re going."
Millennials as Ethical Consumers
Clothing is beautiful. It's a form of self expression. But, self expression should not come at the expense of people and planet. Millennials need to take step back from careless consumption.
"You should love the things that you wear and when you buy something start by asking yourself the following questions; do I love this? am I gonna take care of this? am I going to hold onto this for a long time? If the answer is 'YES,' that is already a far more sustainable choice," says Morgan. "When you do that it is going to make you think that next series of questions; who made my clothes? what went into this? where did this come from?"
Furthermore, Morgan and Ross recommends Millennial consumers purchase from brands that align with your values.
"Clothing is very personal. Not like food. Everyone is going to have to find their own way of doing this. Everyone is going to have to find what it means to them," says Morgan.
The Millennial generation poses an unprecedented amount of consumer power. Let's harness it to support brands where people and planet are part of the cost.
Take a stand against "fast fashion" by tweeting the following; I support people and planet #SlowFashionDown via @genYize @TrueCostMovie http://bit.ly/1FbgExn
Next Week on Solutionist 3.0
Andrew Morgan and Michael Ross talk about leaving their day jobs to become entrepreneurs, discuss the highs and lows they experienced while making The True Cost, and serve up valuable advice to anyone considering stepping out to start their own business. Sign up to get notified when videos go live.