A lot of consumers today would like to shop better, sustainability is one of the megatrends of our era. But it is sometimes hard to change old and beloved habits. Remembering why we started in the first place, can be of great help.
One area where we can have a huge positive impact is in fashion consumption. The fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions - that’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, while on the human side, 77% of retailers believe that there is a possibility of modern slavery in their supply chains.
Educating yourself on fast fashion is the most important first step in creating positive changes in your wardrobe and for the world. More so than the words we read, film has an incredible power to help shift our behaviors. So here, I’ve put together the five best fast fashion documentaries that should be on every eco-warrior’s watch list. Let the movie marathon begin!
Photo by Daria Shevtsova
1. The True Cost
In this fast fashion documentary about the real social and environmental price of cheap clothing, we follow filmmaker Andrew Morgan around the world to uncover the hidden hands behind the clothes we buy. With a focus on revealing the sacrifices that are made at various points in the supply chain that enable our clothing to cost so little, 'The True Cost' is truly the best overview of all of the issues in the fashion industry.
Film still from The True Cost
Watch this just once and without a doubt, you'll be thinking differently about fashion and making changes for the better.
'The True Cost' is available on Amazon Prime.
2. River Blue
Exploring the environmental impact of clothing through the story of a river, this fast fashion documentary by conservationist Mark Angelo is a genuinely shocking showcase of how polluting the industry really is.
With a focus on denim and leather, 'River Blue' shows how harsh chemical manufacturing and irresponsible waste has not only destroyed some of the world’s most vital rivers, but also impacted the lives of people who count on these waterways for their survival. The film encourages us all to take action to protect our waters for future generations. 'River Blue' is available on Amazon Prime.
3. Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets
This BBC documentary literally shifted people’s perspectives overnight. With a refreshingly accessible approach that educates rather than shames consumers, presenter Stacey Dooley travels the world to trace the fashion supply chain and its impact on people and the planet.
In one harrowing scene, Stacey travels across the dried-up Aral Sea - one of the cotton industry’s greatest shames. This little known environmental disaster is a direct result of our overproduction and overconsumption - a truly shocking visualisation of fast fashion. But this fast fashion documentary also offers active solutions for positive change - a must-see for fashion revolutionaries everywhere.
'Fashion’s Dirty Secrets' is unfortunately currently not available on BBC Three, but you can read on about this already classic here.
4. Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion
Blur bassist, turned cheese farmer, turned sustainability warrior Alex James created a fast fashion documentary in 2016 all about the dangers of our speedy shopping obsession.
A critical look at the fashion industry and its enormous human and environmental cost, Alex speaks to designers, brands, journalists and activists, and even Royal Highness Prince Charles, to show the growing thirst for change (which in 2019, is more prominent than ever). The film champions sustainable alternatives including natural fibres and supply chain transparency. 'Slowing Down Fast Fashion' is available on Amazon Prime.
Last but certainly not least on my must-see ethical fashion documentaries list is Unravel, a short film by Meghna Gupta which shows what happens to our clothes once we get rid of it. Following the journey of discarded clothing from the West across Northern India to meet Reshma, a factory worker in Panipat who recycles these garments back into yarn.
While Reshma works away on clothes that we have deemed unwearable and unwanted, she imagines the lives of those who wore them, constructing a picture of the Western world’s relationship with fashion. Unravel is available on Youtube or via RAI film.
Looking for more films about sustainability next to the above fast fashion documentaries? Here’s a couple of bonus films that explore climate and consumption issues beyond fashion.
- Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
Another great Netflix watch, and not one for the faint-hearted, Cowspiracy claims the missing link in our collective fight against climate change is animal agriculture. It encourages us all to embrace a vegan diet to halt the devastating environmental impact that factory farming has on our planet.
- Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things
Minimalism, a 2015 documentary available on Netflix, asks viewers an important question - how might your life be better with less? The film examines minimalism in its many forms by following self-proclaimed minimalists who are all striving to live a meaningful life with less ‘stuff’.
Enjoy watching these fast fashion documentaries to help you learn more about the problems within the industry and take action on some of the solutions. For more information about ethical fashion, visit Fashion Revolution to explore loads of great free resources.
As you dive deeper into the world of sustainable fashion, you may find yourself feeling inspired to make a change in your own wardrobe. The documentaries listed above are just the beginning of understanding the impact of fast fashion on our planet, and on the lives of those who make our clothes.
But where do you start when it comes to building a more ethical and sustainable wardrobe? Building a sustainable wardrobe can be a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. One great way to start is by creating a capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe is a curated selection of versatile, timeless, and high-quality pieces as fair fashion basics that can be mixed and matched to create multiple outfits. This approach simplifies your wardrobe and also helps to reduce consumption and waste.
Building a sustainable wardrobe is not only about the clothes you wear but also the way you consume them. That's why you also could consider to join the slow fashion movement. Slow fashion is a conscious approach to fashion that values quality over quantity, longevity over trends, and people over profit. By embracing slow fashion, you can make a positive impact on the environment and the lives of those who make your clothes.
Ruth MacGilp is an ethical fashion blogger based in Edinburgh, UK, who is passionate about showcasing the alternatives to fast fashion. She is also a freelance digital marketer who works across social media, websites, email, PR and copywriting to help combine storytelling, selling and sustainability for purpose-driven brands.