On Monday 25th April a special event took place in Ipswich, hosted by Where Does It Come From? and the Ipswich Fairtrade Group. An audience of cinema goers flocked to the Ipswich Film Theatre for the event which started with a wine reception (wine kindly donated by East of England Co-op) while they browsed and shopped at Fairtrade stalls from Ipswich Fairtrade Shop, Where Does It Come From? and Arthur and Henry Shirts. The audience then took their seats to watch ‘The True Cost Movie’ (www.truecostmovie.com) which was followed by an interactive panel discussion session.
The film, produced by Andrew Morgan with guest producers including the Observer’s Lucy Siegle and ethical fashion champion Livia Firth, explores the effects of the fashion industry upon those who make clothes, upon the environment and even upon ourselves as consumers. Our panellists on the night all play key roles in the Fairtrade and ethical fashion world. Michael Gidney is the CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation (www.fairtrade.org.uk) which oversees all of the Fairtrade products and campaigning in the UK. Mark Lissaman is co-founder of the ethical shirt company Arthur and Henry (www.arthurandhenry.com) and Jo Salter is founder of Where Does It Come From? (www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk) a clothing brand that allows the customer to trace the production of their clothes. The final panellist was Karen Cannard who is a bin slimming guru at ‘The Rubbish Diet’ (www.therubbishdiet.org.uk) who slimmed her bin down to one plaster, and is regularly invited onto radio and TV to discuss waste management issue. The event was chaired by Elaine Coltham from the Ipswich Fairtrade Group.
We chose this date to co-incide with Fashion Revolution Week (www.fashionrevolution.org) which marks the anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, in which over 1200 garment workers lost their lives when their unsafe factory collapsed on them, trapping them without means of escape.
Feedback on the film from the audience included comments such as ‘eye-opening’, ‘brought tears to my eyes’ and shock at the way that many garment workers have to live and work, just so that we can get the cheap clothes we demand. The film is called ‘The True Cost’ because it highlights the fact that the true cost of fast fashion, in human suffering, in damage to the environment and to us too – always looking for the next bargain – is not measured or charged for. In fact some of the costs will not be measurable until a long way into the future.
Changing the Culture
The discussion after the film was vibrant and there were some fascinating points of view and questions. Most people felt that the culture around ‘Fast Fashion’ had got out of hand. It is seen as a positive trend to go shopping for cheap bargain clothes – the film shows clips of young girls on video channels showing their purchases to their fans, sometimes saying that they will probably never wear the item but it was cheap! Culture change takes a long time and the thoughts were around the fact that it has taken 20-30 years for us to get to our current situation so it may (but hopefully not) take this long to change it. It was pointed out that culture change around drink driving, smoking or victimisation of homosexuals has been massive – situations once seen as normal or attractive are now seen as totally unacceptable.
Changing the System
The question of what we can do to help was also raised. If we don’t buy the cheap clothes then these people have no jobs available, which could make their life situation a lot more dangerous. This is a challenging point and dealt with well in the film. As consumers we do have a choice and we need to vote with our buying power. If brands realise that people will not buy clothes (or other products) unless they are reassured by their ethical production then they will quickly look to provide this reassurance. Legislation to back this up is also necessary and has started already with the UK Slavery Act 2015. The advice from the panel was to choose ethically – look at websites such as ethicalconsumer.org, ask questions and give customer feedback (most shops have feedback forms if you ask and if they don’t, they should). There are also accreditations such as the Fairtrade Mark which help with this reassurance.
Get the Brands to take Responsibility
One of my favourite suggestions from the audience was that clothing brands are made responsible for recycling the clothing that they sell, just as electronics companies have to take back and recycle their old products. This would certainly make the brands think about the quality of the fabrics they use (mixed fabrics eg. Polycotton are much harder to recycle!). They might also be influenced to produce fewer, higher quality garments rather than large quantities of cheap, throwaway clothes!
People in the audience were generally horrified by the effects of fast fashion on our world but also on the psychology of our shoppers – especially our young people. In the film a psychologist explained the success of cheap products as being down to the fact that many of the things people really want in their lives – education, health, a loving family and friends, no stress – all seem unattainable so to avoid this issue they cheer themselves up (temporarily) with a new product. This rarely satisfies (it doesn’t look right, it’s not like the photo, a new version has just come out) and so the cycle continues. An audience member suggested that the film ‘The True Cost’ should be shown in all secondary schools so that our teenagers can get a chance to break this cycle at a young age.
Feedback from the event was very positive and I hope that the audience took something away with them and choose to spread the word. My concern though, as is often the case, is that the audience was mainly made up of those with an interest in the subject. How do we reach those who just don’t want to listen?