Do you know where your clothes come from? Director, Andrew Morgan didn’t either, until one morning when he saw a photo in the newspaper of the 2013 garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Morgan was so disturbed by the tragedy that he decided to investigate further. The True Cost (currently on itunes) is the result of that investigation.
The True Cost is effective in answering the question hidden in its title. What is the true cost of our fashion industry? Morgan spends the majority of the documentary simply explaining how clothes are made; from growing of–and genetically engineering–cotton to the advertising. He thoroughly shows showing viewers all aspects of the process and does it in a way that is emotionally captivating. Yes it may be a lot of numbers, the kind of talk that really only excites accountants and financiers, but the viewer ultimately becomes invested due to Morgan’s care in layering the documentary with personal stories that give a face to the numbers and statistics. Throughout the documentary, Morgan uses sexy images of high fashion to juxtapose those of the slums that the garment workers live and work in. The contrast is highly effective especially when he introduces the moral compass, Shima, a 23-year-old mother of one and garment worker in Bangladesh. Through her we see the emotional and physical cost of working in the fashion industry. She has a daughter and family who she rarely sees because she spends most of her time at the factory. Her shocking stories of working and punishment cause viewers to question whether or not they should continue to buy from such big “fast fashion” brands. Of the many interviews it’s Morgan’s focus on Safia Minney, the founder and CEO of People Tree, a sustainable and fair trade fashion company that help balances Shima’s story. With Minney viewers get a look inside People Tree and just how it’s trying to shift away from this idea of fast fashion in order to create clothing in safe and reliable environments. Minney cares about the people who are making her clothes, so she does everything in her power to connect with them and make sure that they are getting paid a living wage and working in safe conditions. This focus helps alleviate the frustration caused by learning the true cost of fast fashion as it becomes clear that not everyone takes part in these dangerous actions.
One of the most interesting things I learned from The True Cost is how these garment factories are actually essential to the economies of third world countries, many of which are presented in the film. The factories are essential to such countries as India and Cambodia in building up the economy and creating jobs with the hope of bringing people out of poverty. The only problem with this is that it takes too much time. The likelihood of lowering the poverty rate of these nations by a significant amount probably won’t happen in our generation. Morgan also focuses on the technical side of fashion, taking a look at how cotton is made and examining the various chemicals used in the process. Sobering visuals and statistic are used to present the dangers of improper protection from the chemicals with many current and ex factory workers suffering from cancer and birth defects. Morgan’s most impactful images however, are those of black Friday. At the end of his documentary we get a glimpse into the world of black Friday shopping, we see the insanity that occurs and the images are quite shocking. It helps bring America’s obsession with material goods into perspective in quite a terrifying way.
In The True Cost Morgan does a brilliant job of highlighting all the necessary issues of the fast fashion industry and giving them a solid emotional backing through personal stories. He also has several opportunities to really emphasize the loss that these workers experience, and he takes them with a vengeance. Such as the story of the worker caught in the terrible factory collapse of 2013, in which she lost both of her legs. His focus on this particular tragedy is rather short, and it’s obvious that a more detailed look at her life would tug violently at the heart strings. This and other personal stories, other than that of Shima, might have been made more of a priority instead of the many facts and statistics provided by Morgan’s many interviews with members of the industry. The human cost deserves more attention than the financial, in my humble opinion.
Overall The True Cost is a great documentary that highlights the true issues within our fashion industry. Morgan directs and edits the shots effectively while keeping viewers engaged and focused on the stories and information, while simultaneously making you think about whether or not you really want that five-dollar t-shirt from H&M.