Fast-fashion is becoming the prominent type of retailer for consumers everywhere to shop at. From old-loves: Forever 21 and H&M, to new favorites: Primark and UNIQLO, fast-fashion has been a past trend that keeps on growing.
But, where are our clothes coming from? How are they being manufactured so quickly? After watching the film, The True Cost, directed by Andrew Morgan, I was able to understand that our fast-fashion, $10 clothing pieces, are not only harming people because of the chemicals used in order to create them, but are killing factory workers because of poor working conditions that are set in order to give us the cheap clothing we so desperately crave.
In 2013, over 1,000 factory workers at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh were killed because the factory collapsed in result of managers cutting corners in order to reduce the cost of the $10, poor-quality, shirt that you're probably wearing.
As a lover of good-deals, I was perpetrator of shopping at these fast-fashion retailers. But since watching this film, my mind-set of what good-deal fashion is has changed drastically. In order to understand the effects of fast-fashion, I had the privilage to talk with director Andrew Morgan about ways to become a smarter shopper and the real effects of harsh clothing manufacturing.
BWAB: What intrigued you pursue the topic of fast-fashion manufacturing?
ANDREW: "I was kind of interested in making a film about the role of business, in regards to human rights and global issues, and as a filmmaker, it was one of those topics that was just too big, too broad like I couldn't get my arms around it. I was finishing up my last film and I was getting coffee one morning here in Los Angeles and I looked down and saw the New York Times and saw a story about the clothing factory collapse in Rana Plaza. I picked up that paper, and I visually remember standing in line with that paper, reading that story -- and at that point it was already about 1,000 workers, mostly women who lost their lives -- and I read about how that factory that collapsed was making clothing for major western brands, and several of the companies mentioned were brands that I knew and bought from. I remember standing there thinking, 'how is this possible that in our modern world, how an industry so powerful as fashion is doing business in such a way -- as I read -- that was continuing to cause the lessening of human rights'. But I also remember thinking about, in a really personal way, 'how is it possible that I never thought of where my clothes come from?' It sort of dawned on me, at that moment -- here I am as a person who cares about these big issues, and yet maybe I am apart of something [with my choices] that I never thought about. I took that article back to my office and shared it with my producer, picked up the phone that week and started calling people that were working in different parts of the fashion industry around the world to try to get my head around [this film] that I was convinced to make. I was convinced that there was a way to address or look at some of these issues through the lense of something that we all interact with everyday. That was something I thought was really fascinating."
"...at that point it was about 1,000 workers, mostly women who lost their lives...how is an industry so powerful as fashion doing business in a way that is lessening human rights..."
[ photos of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh ]
BWAB: "That's really cool. I never would've thought about taking something that was in a newspaper and making it into a film, like you did."
ANDREW: "That's one of things in life that just grabs you, and you can't figure out why they grab you, but it just sticks, you know?"
BWAB: "Yeah, I know. That's awesome. So, for the people who strictly shop at fast-fashion retailers -- like Forever 21 and H&M, I know you talked a little bit about H&M in your film -- what steps can they (consumers) start taking initially to move away from purchasing clothing that -- for lack of better words -- hurts the people who are manufacturing the clothing?"
ANDREW: "That's a great question. Let me share a little bit of my own experience. But, before I do, I think -- as you saw in the film -- there are big changes that we're seeing in the fashion industry globally, in a short period of time clothing has been reconsidered as a disposable product, for the first time in history. A product that used to be made and cared for and passed down has now been made cheaper, cheaper, cheaper in regards to price as well as quality to the point that it's engineered to fall apart and not last long in [consumers] wardrobe's, and it's resulted in astronomical increase in the amount of new clothes that we all buy into -- and you heard the numbers in the film -- more than 80 billion a year, that more than 400% more clothes than just 2 decades ago. You're talking about a 20 year period ago. So I think for me, as I started to kind of wake up to some of these ideas, here's where it started, it just started lessening the amount of cheap, throw-away stuff that I was bringing in. Then I began to look at my closet and say 'you know what, I'm buying a lot of stuff that's really cheap -- and like a lot of people I'm on a budget -- but reality is when I look at my clothing I saw two things: a) I really didn't like it, it's not really great, I'm not in love with any of it, and b) it doesn't last, it's actually wearing out and falling apart year-in-and-year-out, and not leaving me with a real wardrobe that I love.' It started with me on that conveyor belt, that trend of buying into this cheap price point, and it began to open me up to things like second-hand -- which there are just some amazing second-hand stores in LA. And also, when I was going to buy something new it began to be a consideration of 'is this something I really love, is this something I need, is it something I'm going to wear and hold on to for a long time?' A lot of times where I would encourage anyone to start is that amount of consumption. That's like the mindset shift, that has helped me to begin to think of clothing as something I invest in, something that I choose intentionally, and something that I hold on to. Then the cool thing about that is -- in that slowing down of amount -- it has given me the space and room in my life to begin to think about those next set of questions which is: who made this? Where did it come from? What's their life like? But I only had the chance to ask those next questions when I actually reduced the volume of what was coming in and going out."
"...it just started lessening the amount of cheap, throw-away stuff that I was bringing in... 'is this something I really love, is this something I'm going to hold on to for a long time?"
BWAB: "That make so much sense. I feel like, too, with companies that want to make cheap, throw-away clothing it's taking away the art from fashion, because like you said, people just throw it away -- so where's the art to it?"
ANDREW: "I think that's really what is beautiful about blogs like yours. I don't want anyone to walk away from this film getting the idea that 'oh I need to wear less.' I'm not just trying to say less, we can fall back in love with fashion, with something that is beautifully made. That's a cool concept to me. I think a lot of people are getting in touch with that."
"I think that's what is beautiful about blogs like yours... we can fall back in love with fashion with something that is beautifully made..."
[ photos of beautiful and sustainable clothing from Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher ]
BWAB: "Yeah exactly, that's what it's all about. Finding pieces that are unique versus the unoriginal, cheap quality clothing. But during your film, you also touched on how the cotton is made, in Texas. So as consumers, what can we do to start moving away from those GMO cotton brands? Is it merely just starting to read labels more or are there more steps that we should be taking as consumers?"
ANDREW: "Yeah, there's a couple of things. One, organic cotton is dramatically better than the GMO cotton -- as you said. And a lot of people, a lot your readers are in touch with GMO's, pesticides, and what not that is used in food, and especially with clothing that touches your skin -- which is a large organ on your body -- and with the new studies that are continuing to pile up, that for one, people are taking in a lot of toxins through their clothes and into their skin, so it really matters how the thread, hows the fabric, how it was made. So I think on a very personal level, you wear clothes on your body, you sleep on sheets, that's just an enormous interaction. So when you're buying look for organic. Organic means that it is a healthier fabric and it also means that the farmers were paid more -- there's an increase that the farmers receive -- so from that standpoint there are some real benefits."
"So I think on a very personal level, you wear clothes on your body... that's just an enormous interaction..."
BWAB: "Yeah, so it's kind of like a win-win."
ANDREW: "Yeah, and it's something that you can look for. It's not available everywhere but it's available more than you think. So if you start to ask brands about it and you start to look for it , you might be surprised how much you find it. And there's a lot of other fibers too that are using a lot less water like alpaca and wool. Some of these fibers that are much, much less harmful, and really trying to get away from synthetics and return to more of these purer ones. Organic cotton is a great place to start, and it's pretty available."
BWAB: "Do the clothing labels tell you or do you have to do some digging within the company?"
ANDREW: "They should definitely say on the tags, and they pay a bit more to make it that way, and in every case that I've seen they're really proud of it. And some of these brands they won't have it and it will be available garment by garment, but on the ones that do, yes, they will tell you."
BWAB: "That's awesome. For those companies that haven't been doing organic cotton and have been manufacturing in a way that is incredibly harmful to human-life, what kind of reactions have you been seeing from them?"
ANDREW: "I was invited to companies to do screenings of my film and I started seeing that the companies were actually starting to care about clothing and care how it was being made. For some other companies, they ignored the film and were hard to get in touch with for interviews, but like brands I mentioned such as Stella McCartney and such, they were starting to make significant changes in their brand."
BWAB: "It's great to see that even though there are some brands not jumping in on the free-trade-cruelty-free aspect, there are still some that are and are trying to make a change in the fashion industry! So, for those fashionistas -- like myself -- who still want to go shopping but instead at place who are essentially cruelty-free, what is the best way to find out where the company's manufacturing is done? Because I know personally, I have struggled with finding out some of that information."
ANDREW: "Yeah, well it's not always going to be easy to find. I know certain websites are coming out with tools in order to help buyers and consumers have the information more readily available and easier to search. But the best way is to either a) look online, or b) ask the company. Usually, if you have to do some digging that means that the company is hiding information. Another way is to find local designers. LA has a ton of really cool local designers and I'm sure Chicago is the same. You can not only get really unique clothing pieces, and the owners are usually always there and willing to talk to you about their brand and where it comes from."
"usually, if you have to do some digging that means that the company is hiding information..."
BWAB: "Yeah, and you're not only being conscious of where the clothing is coming from, but you're also supporting local designers. So, for my last question, what can you say to those who still think that their $10 shirt isn't affecting anyone? What would you say to those who still haven't watched your film -- what are your hard-hitting closing words?"
ANDREW: "I would invite anyone to just consider that what you wear always has a profound impact on the world around you. There are human hands behind all of the pieces we wear, many of which representing the world's most vulnerable people. In many cases, when we buy into mass produced, cheap, throw-away clothing, we are casting vote as if to say that the only thing we care and believe in is the lowest possible price, not the humanity of others in the world."
What are your thoughts on the fast-fashion industry after you just read more about it? How will YOU personally start making a change?
- Interview with director Andrew Morgan, Conducted by Amanda Kaplan (BWAB)