The True Cost

Ah, Netflix – home of procrastination. The perfect fodder for sleepy evenings/ hangovers/ binge-watching Orange is the New Black/ diving away from the real world for a few hours. Also, if you’re seeking them out, home to lots of brilliant documentaries. In fact, there’s one that went up recently that I want to make everyone watch – The True Cost. Charting the impact of the textiles industry – an industry that, globally, employs 1 in 6 people – it looks at everything from cotton manufacturing to clothes production.

I’ve been banging on about sustainability for a few years now – to the point that I sometimes get complacent and/ or jaded and think, “surely I’ve said everything I want to now. What do I write about now? It probably won’t make any difference anyway.” But then something like this comes along and prods you (well, actually it’s more of a punch in the gut), making you remember all over again just why it’s so important to continue caring. I scribbled notes whilst watching, pausing at various points to get down particular quotes and snippets of information. What I do with them now, I don’t know, but it felt important to bear witness to what I was seeing on the screen.

It’s a devastating watch at times – one that made me want to cry more than once. From the young woman in Bangladesh who, on setting up a union to demand some basic workers rights, was badly beaten by her bosses, through to the cotton farmer in Texas whose husband died of a brain tumour aged 50 (it’s thought as a result of exposure to the intensive chemicals used on cotton plants), this film reflects the all too human impact of our desire for quicker, cheaper clothes. It’s emotive, yes, but it needs to be. The few people picked up here are just the odd thread – several filaments of tales held up to the light – among a massively huge and horrible number of worldwide stories.

I think it’s entirely necessary viewing though. Alongside the trauma and recognition of how shit the lines of communication are when it comes to production (there is basically no accountability, because most big name brands work through third party contractors), there’s a lot of hope too. Safia Minney, the brains behind People Tree, shows the possibilities for another way of working – one where those involved in making the clothes are treated decently and fairly. Radical, I know… (cough, cough). Fashion Revolution, which takes place each April, is also gaining momentum – while beyond the film, leading figures like Emma Watson are taking on the Green Carpet Challenge and raising the visibility of ethical outfits. These are the kinds of steps we need to be shouting about and celebrating.

The True Cost left me with a lot of ponder on. I used to be very adamant about not shopping on the high street. I still am – kind of – but that’s more down to personal preference (I just bloody love charity shops) than anything else. As lots of great organisations like War on Want have pointed out, boycotting isn’t the only answer. Pointing fingers and blaming consumers doesn’t work either. Instead, perhaps, it’s about taking positive action – criticizing where criticism is due, and flagging up all the truly horrendous things happening in the name of trends and cheap clothes, but also focusing on just how we change stuff for the better. I’m not sure what exactly that involves. There are no easy answers or quick-fix solutions. But you know what? If The True Cost leaves us all getting angry and holding big brands to account and asking a hell of a lot of questions, then maybe that’s a start.

Follow Rosalind on Twitter: @RosalindJana & find her blog here.