Fashion

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

It’s been a year since the release of The True Cost, a documentary film that explores the environmental and social cost of our global addiction to ‘fast fashion’. During the recent Festival de Cinéma des Cinq Continents, I had the great pleasure and honour to host an event with Livia Firth, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge and the film’s executive producer. I asked Livia how much has changed since last year — ‘not nearly enough’ was her answer.

And indeed, earlier this week, The New York Times reported that global brands such as H&M and Walmart still fall short of their commitments to overseas workers.

It appears that despite much-publicized corporate sustainability initiatives and well-intentioned multi-stakeholder partnerships, not much has changed for the garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia and elsewhere in the developing world.

What is desperately needed is a major overhaul of the current fashion business model, which fuels the race to the bottom in terms of cutting economic costs at the expense of everything else.

Discussing The True Cost with Livia Firth at the Festival de Cinéma des CInq Continents.

Discussing The True Cost with Livia Firth at the Festival de Cinéma des CInq Continents.

Several initiatives are currently working to quantify the so-called environmental and social ‘externalities’ — simply put, the unseen damage caused by companies to the people and the planet along the way of making profit. This would be the first step towards holding those responsible to account.

The first-ever Natural Capital Protocol Guide for the Apparel Sector is due to be released this July. A similar guide for businesses to measure and value their interactions with society is currently under development. Meanwhile, however, our environmental and social capital continues to be depleted. And the true cost of fast fashion is still — three years after Rana Plaza — unacceptably high.

In a recent interview with WRS StyleFile, I argued that sustainability must become a hygiene factor in fashion—something that is considered the norm, not novelty. In order for this to happen, showing the true cost of ‘fast fashion’ seems like a good place to start.

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