The fashion industry is still the second-largest polluter globally after the oil industry. Luckily, talented filmmakers decided to drive change and spread awareness of environmental and social issues with documentaries on sustainable fashion.
The rise of fast fashion over the last 20 years made consumers consider clothes as disposable commodities. The overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing produce tons of waste, pollution, and carbon emissions every year.
The global textile and apparel industry is one of the leading contributors to global warming and climate change. It accounts for more than 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, almost as much as the total for the whole of Europe, as reported by the Fashion Transparency Index.
Furthermore, human rights violations and sweatshop-like working conditions are very common in textile and garment manufactures. Fortunately, reducing the social and environmental impact of our clothes is now a priority for many fashion brands and retailers.
As conscious consumers, we must inform ourselves about these issues and make better clothing choices. We must support companies that respect workers in their supply chains and avoid those that don't.
Here are the current top 5 documentaries on sustainable fashion you need to watch.
Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion
This 2016 documentary on fast fashion displays a critical look at the fashion industry and its gigantic social and environmental cost. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ben Akers exposes the disastrous impact of our disposable approach to clothing.
Cheaply made clothing keeps garment factory workers in sweatshops and uses man-made materials that will pollute the Earth for centuries. By talking to activists, fashion designers, and high-street brands, Alex James presents in the film an ever-growing number of consumers asking for change and sustainable fashion.
Watch the trailer for Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion below.
The Machinists is a 2010 British documentary film directed by Hannan Majid and Richard York. The film explores the personal stories of three young women working in factories in Dhaka. It shows the exploitation of garment workers in Bangladesh through their stories.
The Machinists is a striking and moving documentary. It portrays the human impact of high-street fashion. Watch this documentary to get a grasp of the deplorable situation.
Fashion companies must pay their workers a living wage. And more people need to reconsider the way they get their cheap clothes. The conditions in which these women are working are unacceptable.
Watch the complete 50 minutes short film The Machinists below.
The Next Black - A film about the Future of Clothing
The Next Black is a short and historical documentary made in 2014 by David Dworsky and Victor Köhler. It brings together designers, innovators, and leaders from around the world for an open discussion on the future of fashion.
"The Next Black is a documentary film that explores the future of clothing. Watch as we meet with some of the most innovative companies on the planet to get their opinion on clothing and its future, including heroes of sustainability Patagonia, tech-clothing giants Studio XO, sportswear icon Adidas, and Biocouture, a consultancy exploring living organisms to grow clothing and accessories."
The Next Black is a beautifully constructed documentary. It showcases a new age for fashion that will hopefully come sooner than expected. The film is very inspiring with amazing perspectives.
Watch the complete 47 minutes short film The Next Black below.
RiverBlue: Can Fashion Save the Planet?
RiverBlue follows conservationist and river advocate Mark Angelo on a journey through some of the world's most beautiful to most polluted rivers.
The 2016 film brings awareness to the destruction of some of the world's most vital rivers through the manufacturing of our clothing.
Fashion is one of the world’s most pollutive industries. We must act now and demand a significant change in the textile and apparel industry from all players. Everyone can make a difference.
"Narrated by clean water supporter Jason Priestley, this groundbreaking documentary examines the destruction of our rivers, its effect on humanity, and the solutions that inspire hope for a sustainable future."
The fashion world uses harsh chemical manufacturing processes such as farming, washing, bleaching, dyeing, and treatment. The irresponsible disposal of toxic chemical waste pollutes the air, soil, and water sources.
Watch the trailer for RiverBlue: Can Fashion Save the Planet below.
The True Cost
One of the most well-known and impactful documentaries on the reality of fashion is The True Cost by Andrew Morgan. The 2015 film takes you around the globe to see the people who make clothes for the fashion world.
"The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing? Filmed in countries all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest slums, and featuring interviews with the world’s leading influencers including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth, and Vandana Shiva, The True Cost is an unprecedented project that invites us on an eye-opening journey around the world and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes."
The documentary is very helpful to understand the challenges for our societies and the planet caused by fast fashion. Every customer in the fashion market should notice this awful situation.
Andrew Morgan covers many of the multiple problems caused by the way we produce and consume clothing today. The fashion industry's rapid growth has a devastating effect on people, animals, and the planet.
It's really an eye-opener to what's happening behind our clothes and what many fashion companies want to hide from consumers. The film particularly exhibits the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse which killed 1,134 people and injured many thousands more.
Watch the trailer for The True Cost below.
Bonus: Unravel: The final resting place of your cast-off clothing
Unravel is a short film made in 2012 by Meghna Gupta that follows discarded clothes on a journey across Northern India. It explains the course our clothing waste takes. Beautifully and brightly crafted, the documentary offers a different perspective on the textile industry as we know it in Western culture.
Unravel follows gorgeous, inquisitive, and radiant woman Reshma who works in a textile recycling factory in India. The stories are truly heartbreaking as we see people surrounded by our trash daily.
Many of the clothes we discard today are brand new and unworn. The reality of waste in the fashion industry is tragic. More than 80% of all clothes end up in landfills globally.
Watch the complete 13 minutes short film Unravel: The final resting place of your cast-off clothing below.
The global fashion industry is a need for change and more sustainability. It's very encouraging to see progress but at the same time frightening when we realize how much there is still to be done.
Read up my other article on useful sustainable fashion resources for more organizations to support, voices to follow, books, and films on ethical fashion.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.