Last Wednesday, Up-Fuse invited us to a cozy night in as we watched The True Cost ; a movie that talks about the impact of fashion on people and the environment. For those who are not familiar with Up-Fuse, it is an Egyptian brand that upcycles plastic to produce fashionable bags. They also support local communities in Manshiyat Nasser (the garbage city) in Cairo.
First, let us take you on a ride through the “The True Cost,” which left attendees speechless. It talks about the fashion industry’s dependency on “fast-fashion”; where production processes are accelerated in order to insert new trends in markets as quickly as possible and with the cheapest prices.
This industry is now considered the most labor-dependent in the world, and the second most polluting one.
The movie looks at what big businesses have to gain and how the demand for clothes has increased, subsequently increasing the need for more production and the need to outsource. Big companies get to choose where to produce their clothes, so they tend to shift to low-wage countries and cut corners in the process, an action that has negatively affected many workers' lives.
Bangladesh, with wages less than three US dollars a day, is very attractive for big fashion companies who produce in bulk quantities, which is why a lot of US brands choose to produce their clothes there. And with around four million garment workers in Bangladesh, these companies get to pay less for the production process and thus acquire higher profits.
"The True Cost" mentions an extreme case of the industry's exploitation of its workers, which led to the tragic deaths of 1,135 Bangladeshis in 2013. The industrial disaster happened when the Rana Plaza building collapsed, even though workers had previously pointed out the cracks in the building to the factory owners, who had ignored the order to evacuate.
The question here is, Why is it that the global fashion industry is not able to guarantee its workers' safety?
Why would they, if most of their production can easily be done in sweatshops with working conditions that are often humiliating and dangerous? H&M, being the second largest global retailer, is amongst the top when it comes to utilizing sweatshops.
Back in 2011, another industrial disaster took place in Cambodia, when almost 300 Cambodian workers fainted in clothing factories due to poor working conditions. The series of mass faintings prompted an investigation by H&M.
The movie brings up more cases of unethical issues, including genetically modified seeds, toxic chemicals causing fatal diseases and birth defects among natives, water pollution, and even farmers committing suicide.
In contrast, the movie highlights a few ethical brands, such as People Tree , which is recognized as a pioneer in “ethical and environmentally sustainable fashion.” The CEO visits her workers every four months to communicate with them, listen to their problems and make sure they’re satisfied.
After the movie discussion, we got to chat with Yara Yassin and Rania Rafie, the founders of Up-Fuse, as well as some attendees. Both Yassin and Rafie were inspired by the movie, and felt that the audience were touched as well.
Rafie believes that both consumers and producers should try their best to be ethical. "The consumer should know the source of the item they choose to buy. If they can't, then they can try not to consume too much, and perhaps share. I understand that it gets very tempting when you want new things, but you need to remind yourself that this is not how it should go," she said.
Rafie also notes that for a brand to be ethical, its aim should revolve around more than just making money. She says designers need to ask themselves whether or not they are being fair, bearing in mind that it is impossible for any business to be 100 percent fair, ethical and sustainable.
One attendee, Alaa Alattar, thinks that wearing an upcycled product is "like wearing a piece of clothing that has a past life." When we asked her whether the movie would affect her purchasing decisions in the future, her answer was a resounding yes.
"The True Cost" definitely made us think about the true cost of producing a fashion piece. Is it water, land, chemicals, or human life?
We need to keep track of our consumption. When we get rid of clothes, we believe that this solves the problem, but we tend to forget that clothes are non-biodegradable. The movie mentions that a majority of the clothes given to thrift stores ends up occupying landfills in developing countries.
In case you missed it, you can buy the movie and watch the trailer online. Yassin announced that Up-Fuse will be holding more awareness events this year, and also said that there might be another screening of the movie soon!