The True Cost is a documentary written and directed by Andrew Morgan, which explores the impact of "fast fashion" on people and the planet. This timely documentary latches onto the fashion industry, another example of how big business is driving profits at the cost of social and environmental responsibility.
Juxtaposing the consumer materialism and capitalist mindset against the reality of sweatshops in developing countries, we explore many facets of this tension as Morgan gives us a behind-the-scenes tour. From poor working conditions, human rights issues and textile factory disasters to industrialised cotton farming, we are led on an eye-opening and heartbreaking journey, which acquaints us with advocates driving change as well as the affected garment workers.
Morgan's message creates awareness about a justifiable concern and it's done with Michael Moore panache, adopting a biased standpoint and powering it home with great emotion. To his credit, he mostly succeeds in exposing the disturbing chain of exploitation and linking it back to major fashion brands and agricultural monopolies. While consumer materialism and capitalist profiteering are demonised, there's enough substance to his argument to provoke the right kind of conversations.
Companies seeking to increase profits are outsourcing their production to developing nations, where it is easier to take advantage of cheap labour and lax labour practices. While offering an alternative income to these impoverished nations seems like a helping hand, it's easier to wash one's hands when you can hide behind outdated regulations and other mitigating socio-economic factors.
Travelling between Bangladesh, Haiti, Japan, Cambodia, England and America, Morgan gets first-hand accounts from those directly affected and footage of factory floors to pollution concerns. The documentary is slick, moving fluidly from runways to sweatshops, and from advertising to talking heads. Since roughly 85% of the factory workers tend to be women, there's also a fascinating feminist undercurrent.
The stark contrasts between first and third world creates a palpable tension between the haves and have-nots. While "fast fashion" bigwigs are criticised for their business strategies and lack of ethics, it's a pity that Morgan was unable to secure an interview with any of their representatives. You can understand why they wouldn't want to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny, but it does make the documentary seem a bit one-sided, even if the outcome seems like a foregone conclusion.
The True Cost is a depressing indictment on big business, which is geared towards profit at the expense of human dignity, as long as it's not happening in their backyard. While reverse engineering the system would definitely lead to major improvements, what's even more saddening is that the governments of these developing countries seem to view their own people with equal disdain.
Morgan's objective for the documentary is to educate viewers to see the fashion industry's exploits and make wiser decisions in much the same way as he experienced it. Featuring fair trade companies demonstrates that there are alternatives and he suggests that by getting the customer to start questioning their spending habits, our collective self-awareness will lead to real change as a spotlight forces business to adjust their policies.
The True Cost captures some truly heartbreaking moments in interviews with subjects and even in the passion of some of the most hardened campaigners. This realness is at the heart of the documentary, which seeks to personalise the lowly garment maker who is making the greatest sacrifice in the clothing cycle. While you can't help but feel guilty for any threads you happen to be wearing, this message needs to be heard so that at the very least you will think about the costs beyond the pricetag.