“Is a sustainable fashion documentary even a thing?,” you may wonder. The answer is yes. With the fashion industry thriving now more than ever, we’ve listed ten films to inspire and educate you about fashion and its impact.
First, let’s talk about why fast fashion is awful. Watching these ethical fashion documentaries is more of a necessity now than a wish.
Is fast fashion bad for the planet?
Millions of Americans, particularly those who were born in or after the year 2000, have never known a world without fast fashion. We can assume that fast fashion has true costs that both its workers and the environment bear. Fast fashion is certainly terrible for the planet. It consumes 53 million tons of fiber per year, 70% of which ends up in landfills or is burnt.
Must-watch sustainable fashion documentaries
If there’s anything you want to do for the planet, begin (or end) by watching these ethical fashion documentaries that are groundbreaking in their own right.
1. The Ugly Truth Of Fast Fashion
A 30-minute short film by American comedian, political commentator, and writer Hasan Minhaj, The Ugly Truth Of Fast Fashion, casts an eye on everything bad about fast fashion. It is a fashion documentary that talks about injustices in the supply chain of fast fashion brands; these include cheap labor and environmental degradation. This film manages to bring laughter while criticizing water pollution and chemical dye consumption in the fashion industry.
Hasan mentions how fashion labels like Zara and H&M drive consumers to shop more. He criticizes the West’s obsession with new clothes, cheap fashion, and high-end labels. This sustainable fashion documentary also addresses environmental issues; this is done while showing how today’s customers’ demand to look ‘fresh to death’ is actually destroying the planet.
2. The Machinists
The impact of cheap fashion is undeniable. Fast fashion companies employ a massive 80 million people globally, most of them, women. This sustainable fashion documentary, The Machinists, by Hannan Majid and Richard York, is a distressing story of three female garment workers. It gives an insight into the lives of these garment factory workers and the boss of a fledging trade union in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The filmmakers let you witness the regular misery of Bangladeshi garment workers firsthand, which comes at a high human cost.
3. The True Cost
For a sustainable fashion future, the one documentary film to look out for is The True Cost. It is one of those ethical fashion documentaries that inspire new beginnings towards slow fashion. Andrew Morgan, in this eye-opening sustainable fashion documentary, talks about fashion supply chains, cheap fashion’s environmental impact, and much more.
From the exploitation of garment workers and polluted rivers to how cheap clothes burden the ecosystem, this film is a must-watch. One of the many reasons avid fashion consumers should watch this film is; that your outlook on fashion will change for good.
4. The Minimalists: Less Is Now
The Minimalists: Less Is Now, by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, offers an authentic perspective on the cheap fashion industry. This sustainable fashion documentary will take you through the concept of living a minimal life. A lot has been spoken about having the least while being content with it, including your wardrobe.
By the end of this film, you will be ready to diss the facade of luxury fashion by understanding that reducing consumption is a given. The experts interviewed here explain how it is not a sacrifice at all, but rather a path to a more peaceful and contented life.
A short documentary film, Unravel, is set in a textile recycling facility in India and answers the biggest questions around recycling. The eye-opening facts of this sustainable fashion documentary explore why workers think westerners discard stuff. Many of the cast-off textiles don’t directly go to landfills but take a trip over the ocean to factories in India.
This arthouse-style film depicts textile recyclers turning huge bales of clothes coming from unfamiliar places and people into twine and yarn. It is a one-of-a-kind film using workers’ imagination and rumors to construct a picture of fashion in the West.
6. Made In Bangladesh
In Made In Bangladesh by Rubaiyat Hossain, we get a glimpse into the life of Shimu, a 23-year-old worker in the Dhaka garment industry. This sustainable documentary provides first-hand information about the exploitative labor conditions and unfair wages of employees in the fashion industry. Close to a documentary, it is based on real-life events in which Shimu meets a labor union advocate who teaches her about workers’ rights.
This film presents a unique stance on the clothing industry. It offers a powerful social commentary on the effects of exploitation while also touching on women’s empowerment.
Produced by Andrew Morgan, director of The True Cost, and Eco-Age founder and creative director Livia Firth, FashionScapes is a series of ethical fashion documentaries. The five-part docu-series looks into the fashion industry’s global supply chain and puts forward an approach to sustainability. From wool production in Tasmania to the role of Mayan women artisans in Guatemala, these films are a definite must-watch.
What you will realize by the end of this documentary series – there is nothing like cheap fashion. Someone, somewhere in the world, is always paying the price.
8. Udita (Rise Up)
Udita (Rise Up), an observational, sustainable fashion documentary, covers five years in the life of Bangladeshi garment workers. Hannan Majid and Richard York explore everything, from the infamous Tazreen and Rana Plaza disasters to factory-led harsh punishments in the garment industry. Udita describes the aftermath in depth, including the fight for unionization and garment workers’ rights.
This documentary also brings close attention to sweatshop conditions and brutal problems in the fashion industry. Although the fashion revolution existed much earlier, it was only after these tragedies that the term gained popularity, and sustainable fashion was born.
With the fashion industry’s ever-increasing water consumption, it is no surprise that over 90+ billion cubic meters of water is used every year. New clothing pieces are not only made at a human cost but also come at severe environmental costs. RiverBlue examines fashion’s effect on waterways and solutions for a sustainable future. It is narrated by actor turned water activist Jason Priestley.
It is a groundbreaking, sustainable fashion documentary that explores exactly the point where fashion and water consumption meet. Providing the best sustainable solutions, RiverBlue is a must-watch in the hope of a better future.
10. The Next Black
At the end of every tunnel, there is light. This sustainable fashion documentary depicts just that. In contrast to the other documentaries on the list, The Next Black offers hope that the future of fashion will only get better. It brings together designers, leaders, and innovators from around the globe for an open discussion on clothing.
This must-watch documentary features major designer labels like Biocouture, Patagonia, and Adidas.
We hope these sustainable fashion documentaries were eye-openers enough to motivate you to do your best for a better planet. If sustainable TED Talks are your thing, we’ve got you covered with 8 of them as well.
We’d also love for you to read more about these boundary-pushing designers who’re doing their bit for the planet and its people.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is sustainable fashion clothing?
Sustainable fashion is defined as clothing that is developed, produced, distributed, and used in an environmentally responsible manner.
- Is fast fashion ruining the planet?
Yes. With 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide released annually and 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the fashion industry ranks third in terms of pollution. It is worse than the shipping and aviation industries put together.
- Why is fast fashion not sustainable?
Fast fashion is not sustainable since it uses everything that slow or sustainable brands do not. It includes extreme water consumption, pollution, toxic chemicals, desertification, and unsafe working conditions. Fast fashion has negative effects, which are made worse by its rapid growth.
- Who are the best influencers to follow when writing and posting about sustainable fashion?
The best fashion influencers you should follow today are:
- Felisha Noel
- Stella McCartney
- EILEEN FISHER
- Mara Hoffman