Two years ago, after reading a newspaper story about the tragic factory collapse in Dhaka that killed 1,134 people, Andrew Morgan found himself on a plane bound for Bangladesh. He was embarking on a long, daunting journey around the world to document the global fashion industry, and he was terrified. The unknowns before him loomed large.
But today, all of those unknowns have become the names and faces of a documentary. After pushing through various obstacles and sifting through a countless assortment of sobering facts and compelling stories, Morgan and his team have a final product ready for the world to see. The True Cost reveals where our clothes come from, the social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry, and hopeful stories that we can all learn from. The film had its debut at Cannes last week, and is sparking conversation about ethical fashion both on and off the red carpet.
I’m excited to introduce you to Andrew Morgan, the director of The True Cost, who kindly agreed to an interview with Hope for the Sold.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while making The True Cost?
For me the most surprising thing was just the scope and scale of the impact this one industry is having. As the largest employer of people in the world, it is built on supply chains that have led to the continued exploitation of the world’s poorest workers.
As the number two most polluting industry on earth, it is causing devastating harm to our planet and leading to very direct impact on people’s lives today. All of this while generating almost three trillion dollars a year in profit and creating some of the world’s richest people and most powerful companies. The further into it I went the more shocking it all became.
What kinds of logistical challenges did you run into while making the film?
There were the expected challenges associated with making a film that took us to more than 25 cities in 13 countries. There was also the challenge of building relationships and earning trust in these countries. We had an extended team of fixers and journalists all over the world. Sharing my heart for the film in a way that motivated them to open doors for us was a key aspect for it all working. Once we built the relationships with these incredible people, the rest of the pieces just began to come together.
Is there is particular person or story that really sticks with you?
In the film we meet a 23 year old garment worker named Shima and her daughter Nadia. Shima became the president of the very first labor union in her factory. Despite being beaten unconscious she continues to this day to lead the struggle for the voices of her fellow workers to be heard. Her bravery and the personal story of her life that represents millions of other garment workers around the world is both horrifying and incredibly hopeful.
What is fast fashion and why is it a problem?
Essentially, it is a process of producing mass amounts of clothing at a rapid pace and low price point. This has lead to a huge increase in the amount of clothes we consume (more than 400% more in the last two decades alone). We now consume over 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year and because so much of it is cheap, we also throw out a lot more than we ever have. Considering the natural resources that go into making clothing, the waste now being generated and the increased strain on supply chain price points – this has led us to a fundamentally unsustainable point in time where we can and must make a real change.
Has anything changed in Bangladesh since the Rana Plaza collapse?
There have been some improvements but not merely as much as many of us hoped there would be. There has still been no real change made in the need for a living wage and workers voices are continually ignored. This has to become something we as people care about before the brands that sell to us begin to really invest in meaningful change.
How has this experience changed your family’s personal shopping habits?
It has added so much meaning to my life. Before I started work on this film, I never thought twice about anything beyond the style or price of a piece of clothing I bought. Now I have so much to think about when I am purchasing something and it has really changed the whole process of consumption for me. I am buying mostly second hand clothing and looking for companies that align with my values when I do invest in something new. It’s not always easy, especially with four kids who are constantly growing but it has become a really important conversation for us as a family to constantly be having in regards to anything we buy.
The True Cost is available worldwide on May 29. You can attend a screening or pre-order a digital or DVD copy of the film (which you can watch on May 29). For more information, check out The True Cost website, follow them on Twitter and like them on facebook.
You can read more about the 2013 Bangladesh factory collapse and how these issues are connected to sex trafficking here. For a tragic, more recent story about the working conditions of the people who make the things we consume, read about the May 14 shoe factory fire in the Philippines. Let’s educate ourselves so we can effectively reduce vulnerability and promote equality around the world.
Thank you, Andrew, for making this excellent and timely documentary – we wish you all the best as you enter an exciting season of film screenings and important conversations, and hope that it is a meaningful and effective time for you and the team.