The True Cost: The Future Is On Sale
Last week seven garment workers died tragically and needlessly in a factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This is far from an isolated incident – it comes two months after a fire broke out in another Dhaka garment factory killing over 120 workers (10% of the factory's 1200 workforce according to War On Want). People are dying to make our clothes. A dress is not worth a life and no one can justify to the contrary.
However, plenty of us still turn a blind eye. Yes, we may stop and listen when we hear a news report about workers in the developing world losing their lives to feed our Western fast-fashion habit, but what percentage of us actually stop to think? And I mean really think about what impact our own consumption is having on another human life. Yes it can feel overwhelming, sometimes even pointless – we may ask ourselves: “what impact can I possibly have on a huge global supply chain?” Well, for a start we can all ask questions of our favourite brands and we can tell them that we care about who made our clothes.
Andrew Morgan, a Los Angeles-based documentary maker, did stop and think. And then he started to ask questions. So shocked was he by the Rana Plaza disaster where over 1100 workers died when the eight-story garment factory collapsed near Dhaka in April this year, that he decided he wanted to give us all pause for thought, and find a way to change the industry for good. Andrew and his team enlisted a wealth of ethical fashion industry leaders whom he interviewed for the trailer to his forthcoming film The True Cost. One of those thought leaders was Livia Firth, creative director of Eco Age, Oxfam Global Ambassador and documentary producer. I was keen to ask Livia why she chose to support Andrew’s film and find out what sets this project apart from all the others she is asked to champion:
“There is nothing like visual advocacy - Andrew is a great director on a quest to document an important journey, that of the clothes we wear. It is a movie I can't wait to see - timely and important and from which I am sure I will learn a lot.”
On Tuesday Andrew launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter with the aim of raising the $75,000 needed to produce a full-length documentary: The True Cost: The Future Is On Sale. I wanted to discover more about Andrew’s inspiration for the film and his hopes for the future of the fashion industry:
Z: Tell me more about how the project came to be - was the Rana Plaza disaster the catalyst or was the film in the planning stages before then?
A: Yes, Rana was the catalyst event. I was getting coffee one morning, when I saw a photo on the cover of the NYT that instantly struck my heart. The image was of two boys walking in front of a giant wall of missing persons signs. I picked up the paper and read about the factory collapse. From there I began reading everything I could get my hands on and calling folks around the world who were working in and alongside the global clothing industry. What I discovered was shocking, both in the extent of the problem but also in the potential for good.
Z: In the film trailer you explain that whilst growing up, you were told that clothes were made in "far-away places by these other people and these people needed the work and somewhere someone was taking care of these people so the best thing that we could do was just keep buying more. There's just one problem with this story. It's not true". Was there a particular moment when you realised the wool had been pulled over your young eyes?
A: I think for me it was in beginning to realize that everything we wear has been touched by human hands at many different points in the process. Rana Plaza was eye opening in the sense of the possibility of tragedy; but it was really in my first research into understanding how our clothes are made that I really became aware. I think in my mind I had this image of cotton going into one end of a machine and a shirt coming out the other. So many things in our society are made by machine; but the truth about clothing is that for all the ways machines have made it easier it is still one of the most labour dependent industries in the world.
Z: The film-making will take you to over ten countries - how did you select those places?
A: That list is still forming but currently we are looking at the top producing countries in the garment industry; as well as the future of where the work appears to be moving next.
Z: On your Kickstarter page you mention that you will be visiting "hostile environments" during the making of The True Cost. Are there any particular areas of concern for you?
A: China and Bangladesh come to mind: as we have talked to many people on the ground there. India and Cambodia as well. A crew of people with cameras is not welcomed into a lot of these places; as we are trying to shine a light on something that some people within the industry are intentionally trying to hide. We are partnering with some amazing people and organizations that will help us navigate through these situations as well as overall travel through the developing world.
Z: You acknowledge the need to look towards a solution rather laying blame - a vital step in order to engage big business, thereby creating change within the industry. But how do you hope to make the consumer sit up and take notice (the consumer that, when faced with images of Rana Plaza on the news, may have turned a blind eye)?
A: Part of the problem has been in the way we are telling the story. Consumers are proven to be aware that something is wrong, but often times it is so abstract that they feel helpless in doing anything about it. I am interested in making a film that is accessible to the "everyday" consumer while at the same time not dumbing down the content. Mary Poppins was onto something with her notion of the spoon full of sugar. When people are entertained they lower their guard and you have the potential to make them aware of new and disruptive ideas. My experience has been that audiences can rise to the occasion if you refuse to talk down to them and tell a story that resonates with both their head and their heart.
Z: I see you have supported quite a few Kickstarter projects. How do you think crowd-funding is enabling creative projects to be even more powerful tools for change?
A: It has opened the door to a new way of thinking. More than the funding, I see it underscoring an inherent hope in cooperative thinking. The notion that we are not spectators but rather active participants in the world we are creating together.
Z: In the film trailer, British journalist Lucy Siegle states that "we are looking at what is going to be regarded as the slave trade of the future". Do you agree, and if so, what do you think is the most effective way for concerned citizens to support, and indeed to demand change (aside from helping to fund your film of course)?
A: I think Lucy makes a strong point to how history will look back on what has been hugely irresponsible behaviour on multiple fronts. As for the second part of your question, this is the big question we are aiming to answer in making this film. I believe the immediate response is to become aware and engaged with the story of your clothing. Buy with purpose and begin to ask questions about the who, how, and where behind each item in your closet. We have seen the food industry change drastically over the last decade as people learned the truth about their food and demanded something better. The clothing industry is ready for such a change; but first consumers need to be educated and then motivated towards the right steps to create this change. Our hope is to be a helpful tool in guiding them on this journey.
A: Lastly, I will just add this. I believe with growing confidence that we are standing in a special moment marked by the choice to create a new precedent. But true change will only come about through cooperation, thinking together, and avoiding the age old blame games. This film is focused on giving context to where we are, in all of its truth and ugliness, while also looking forward to a better tomorrow.
In the three days since the crowd-fund launched for The True Cost, Andrew has already received over 100 pledges. To learn more, I highly recommend you watch the trailer. For as little as $1 you can offer your support on Kickstarter and help Andrew change the face of the fashion industry.