UConnPIRG held a screening of “The True Cost” Tuesday in an effort to make UConn students more aware of how products of fast fashion and the fashion industry are both bad for the environment and unrecyclable, as part of their Zero Waste Campaign.
Next semester, UConnPIRG will be moving toward lobbying legislative officials in Hartford regarding the use of polystyrene in Connecticut, and they are looking for more volunteers to help out. This movie is just one part of their effort this semester to raise awareness to the long-lifespan of disposable products like those made of polystyrene and fast fashion.
Due to technical difficulties regarding the movie’s sound, UConnPIRG’s emcee Samuel Donahue decided to have their discussion at the beginning. He began by asking the audience if they have changed anything about their lifestyle, specifically regarding clothing, to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly. One girl responded that she stopped shopping at fast fashion stores like Forever 21 and H&M because of how horrible the textile industry is for both its workers and for the environment.
Being that the majority of the audience were undercover members of UConnPIRG, they were able to answer discussion questions in favor of the Zero Waste Campaign, as well as bring up other UConnPIRG issues and beliefs. This included dysfunctional solar panels on campus, food waste in the dining halls and how people leave the lights on in their dorms.
Forty minutes into this pre-film discussion, noise abruptly came out of the speakers for the first time and the film was restarted for the third and final time of the night.
The film pointed out that unlike in the 1960s, when 95% of American clothing was made in the U.S., only 3% is made in the states today, while the rest is outsourced. In order to keep clothing cheap, safety measures have been cut in many garment factories in at-risk places such as Bangladesh, which has led to an increase in tragic mass-casualties in the garment industry.
The narrator Andrew Morgan found that despite the poor conditions and deaths of people in foreign countries, many people, especially in corporate America, aren’t bothered by the need for sweatshops to keep up the low prices of fast fashion. They claim the poor and unsafe conditions within garment factories is the better alternative for the workers that would have otherwise been unemployed, despite the fact that their wages aren’t liveable and factory accidents have taken thousands of lives in recent years. It’s all largely justified by economic benefits.
The documentary also touched on the use of GMOs and pesticides in growing cotton for the fast fashion industry. It showed that higher use of pesticides causes higher instances of cancer, birth defects and mental health issues. The more expensive cost of GMOs due to Monsanto’s seed monopoly puts farmers in incredible debt, which has led to higher suicide rates — as bad as one farmer committing suicide in India every 30 minutes.
Consumerism is based on the need to buy things endlessly and to treat them as disposable. To do this, the quality of products needs to be as low as the new cheap costs. Because of this, people are buying 400% more new clothing each year, which amounts to 11 million tons of textile waste in the U.S. alone each year. Of the clothing that gets sent to thrift shops rather than tossed, only 10% ends up sold and the rest is donated to developing countries, where they are often tossed.
“I was aware of the problems in our fashion industry, but just seeing it on the screen first-hand of the problems people face in different countries and how it impacts the environment really shook me,” Angelina Vaccarelli, a fifth-semester allied health sciences major and member of UConnPIRG, said. “I was pretty emotional during that, because it’s just different seeing it happen in front of your eyes than just reading it in an article somewhere.”
Fair Trade was created as a response to the unlivable wages of factory workers and farmers, but many people choose to shop for the cheaper fast fashion, to the detriment of the one in six people who work in the fashion industry. The film focused on one fair trade company called People Tree, which works to be environmentally friendly, humane and empowering to their 7,000 employees.
“I thought it [‘The True Cost’] was really powerful,” Cheyenne Tavares, a first-semester political science major and member of UConnPIRG, said. “The scenes that stuck out to me the most were the Black Friday scenes, where it would switch between a bunch of people rushing in the stores and then it would go to the workers, and I think so often that we just think about the clothes, we don’t think about everything that goes into them and the workers that are making those clothes.”
“The True Cost” asked what the cost of the lucrative fashion industry was in terms of human life, death and pollution — to which it is the second-most polluting industry — and why no one is being held accountable.
Rebecca Maher is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.