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The importance of ethical and sustainable fashion can’t be explained in a soundbyte. It’s an impossibly complex question that, nonetheless, I often find myself fielding in settings that demand a five-minute answer. (Raise your hand if you want to talk child labor or cancer-causing chemicals at a cocktail party.)

Since May 29th, I’ve finally had a digestible but honest response to this query: If you truly want to understand the tangible, staggering ways that the fashion industry negatively impacts the environment and people around the world, set aside 92 minutes and watch The True Cost.

Available on Netflix starting today, this documentary is a compelling crash course on the problems with the modern-day fashion industry–from the health risks that genetically modified cotton seeds pose to communities right here in America, to the unimaginable working conditions endured by the world’s 40 million (primarily female) garment workers, to what’s happening to the 70 lbs. of clothing each of us is tossing every year. 

ethica the true cost landfill

The True Cost reveals what happens to the clothes we donate or discard.

Spoiler: It’s not pretty. It’s a daunting, emotionally draining subject, and this film doesn’t sugarcoat it. To be honest, as much as I’d been looking forward to the release of this film and the arrival of my Kickstarter reward for backing the project, I waited several weeks from the time I received my DVD before I sat down and watched it. Even though I think about these issues every day, I was expecting this movie to make me upset–and it did. I expected to feel frustrated, and for all of the collective progress we’ve made on this front in recent years to seem small. Check, check.

What it did not make me feel, however, was hopeless. In fact, my most important takeaway from this documentary was a reminder of how very fixable this problem is.

Building on the frequent comparison between slow fashion and slow food, Paste Magazine likens The True Cost to Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, Super Size Me. Aside from being apt, the analogy offers reasons to be hopeful: Fortune recently reported that, as shoppers have shifted their support toward small, local and responsible producers, the top 25 U.S. food and beverage companies have lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share since 2009. It’s an impact that has prompted Big Food to change the way it does business.

In 2015 alone, Kraft Foods removed synthetic colors and artificial preservatives from its mac and cheese; General Mills cut sugar content in Yoplait yogurt by 25 percent and made Cheerios GMO-free; Hershey promised to have “clean labels” (i.e., simple ingredients) for its signature Kisses by the end of the year; and both Tyson and McDonald’s stopped selling chicken treated with human antibiotics.

It’s real change driven by consumers who sought, and found, alternatives to the status quo. And it’s change that, perhaps in part, began with a movie.

Learn more about The True Costat truecostmovie.com.

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