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True Cost

Fashion retail has its ups and downs and there are moments, as with any new business, when I wonder if it is all worth it. We believe wholeheartedly in what we are doing but there is the odd occasion where things don't go as planned and I wonder if I should ever have quit the nine to five to follow my dream of selling ethical fashion I was proud of.  Last week was one of those weeks. And then I went to see The True Cost. Very rarely has something galvanised me and reinforced to me that I need to stick on this path as much as that 90 minute film did on Thursday.

Directed by Andrew Morgan and co produced by ethical fashion icons Livia Firth and Lucy Siegle, the True Cost is a documentary that lifts the lid, and opens eyes to the absolute mess that the fashion industry is in.  The film explores the many shocking aspects of the fashion industry that we choose to ignore from the environmental damage (huge landfills, water pollution, toxic waste and chemical poisoning) to the impact on health (deformities in children who live in areas affected by the environmental damage, depression in farmers) and the enormous social impact and human sacrifices that this industry is culpable for.
It starts with the Rana Plaza tragedy, which shocked the world and perhaps finally garnered attention to the plight of garment industry workers. But you soon learn that there is a much bigger picture. Hearing opinions of fashion industry  insiders claiming that working in unregulated, unsafe factories for below a living wage "is better than a lot of things they could be doing" shows just how badly wrong we have it. The claim from a factory owner that another Rana Plaza disaster will likely happen again was heart breaking but once the film went into the economics of the situation and highlighted the pressure that these factories are under from the big high street names to produce more, quicker, cheaper, there is an awful sense that without widespread change he might be right.
You come out of the film baffled that we have collectively allowed this madness to happen. Frankly I felt ashamed that I have so easily been drawn into the glossy adds, the cheap deals and believed the downright lie that buying more clothes makes us feel better, more glamorous, even richer. To hear one teenage blogger who was showing off a massive hoard of fast fashion stating, "I probably won't even wear this top, I don't like it that much" and discarding it like a used tissue, tags still on made me worry for the thousands of teens who follow her - the next generation need to grasp this problem with both hands. Shots of animalistic like shoppers fighting over sale items in a high street store show the shocking truth about what fast fashion has done to people. 
At the heart of the film were several storylines that unfolded, in my mind, to reveal The True Cost of cheap fashion, and that is real, deep human suffering. The two protagonists that stood out to me were two very different but equally strong and inspiring women. One is an Organic Cotton farmer from Texas who has always worked on the land and believes wholeheartedly in the benefits of organic cotton, her wisdom on the subject and straightforward nature makes you wish there were more producers just like her. The impact of the use of chemicals on the land had a tragic and life changing impact on her life that meant farming organic became "imperative". The second is a 23 year old garment industry worker in Dhaka Bangladesh. She has become president of a union and when they disagreed with the management of her factory over workers rights she was beaten with sticks, scales and hit in the face, chest and abdomen.  As a single mother, she was fighting to provide a better life for her daughter but in the end it proved more beneficial to her child's future to take her back to her parents village, where she would only visit her once a week.  As she explains her decision to camera, the raw emotion and pain that this has caused is vivid and with tears running down her cheeks she exclaims. "I will never wear anything that is made with our blood".  The overriding truth of the True Cost, is that we humans are putting other humans at risk and subjecting them to much pain and sorrow by choosing cheap fashion and not putting pressure on big brands to take responsibility for the full supply chain and pay a fair price that ensures the safety of garment industry workers.
I have no doubt that it was the human stories that, when I looked around the audience, caused many people to shed a tear of their own or furrow their brown in disbelief.  And what an audience it was. Fashion heavyweights including Tom Ford, Nathalie Massenet, Stephen Jones, Nicole Farhi and some of the UK's leading press were present. I would love to know what their thoughts were and whether what they saw will have any impact on their own approaches. We need to get this film out there, for as many as people to view it, from fashion heavyweights, to retailers, to fast fashion addicts and to school kids.  We simply can't go on like this.  I felt it before and now I feel it even more so.  Watch this film and it will change your attitude forever.
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