If the title of the compelling documentary, The True Cost, directed by Andrew Morgan, sounds a little mercantile, it is. Dealing with the dreadful reality behind "fast fashion," the greed behind low cost clothes, the exploitation of a work force in underdeveloped countries, and the marketing of unnecessary, non-biodegradable, expendable tee-shirts and other splurge purchases to a population that does not need them, the documentary makes you want to avoid H&M, Forever 21 and Zara. (This last, in particular is in a much-publicized suit regarding racism and anti-Semitism, but I digress.) The film makes it hard to rationalize patronizing these retailers, knowing that the low prices passed along to consumers are the result of dire costs in human lives.
At the New York premiere this week at Lincoln Center's Francesca Beale Theater, with an after party catered by Dean & Deluca, Georgina Chapman (without her husband Harvey Weinstein, one of the hosts), Regis and Joy Philbin, Anna Wintour, Christine Baranski, Anne Hathaway, Isabella Rosellini, Julia Garner, William Ivey Long and many others came to support Livia Firth, executive producer and champion of the film and its ideals in fair trade, fair wages, and care for our planet. Many in the room were entrenched in the fashion world, on the high end, and I wanted to know how the film's concerns affected their world. Firth, the wife of Colin Firth by the way, gave the example of conscious consumerism, buying some expensive Stella McCartney trousers, so well made she'd be wearing them for a long time. So, on the high end, the weight of this problem is not heavy, particularly when production is responsive to workers' needs and safety; consumers do not buy as much as is needed to stay competitive in the "fast fashion" business model, where the poor are at risk of deplorable work conditions and low wages to keep churning out goods that no one really needs, and actually makes no one happy. The film goes far to make this point: more stuff has never been a source of human contentment.
Ecology suffers too, and the film does not shy away from exploring the contamination of cotton crops in Texas, pointing at Monsanto, as other films do. Many film images are grim, such as footage of the collapse of a factory in Bangladesh, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 people. I asked director Andrew Morgan, what was the most difficult scene to shoot. The workers strike in Cambodia and subsequent crack down by police, he said. The crew was always at the edge of safety.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.