Fast Fashion Documentaries: 5 Films That Delve into the Social and Environmental Impacts of Fashion

Fast Fashion Documentaries: 5 Films That Delve into the Social and Environmental Impacts of Fashion

Fashion week isn’t often considered a venue for sustainable or ethical fashion, so when we feed our sense of style from the usual Instagram style influencers (who quite frankly could care less about how their clothes are made and who made them) we usually get the same superficial fashion posts and updates from the catwalks of New York, London or Paris. On impulse and to achieve social status points, we splurge on the latest fashion trying to emulate the looks we see on the runways. Consumers vote with their dollars and what they are voting for tells us all we need to know, “I care about looking good more than I care about the planet and the welfare and dignity of the people involved in the process.”

However, when I attended Fashion Revolution Philippines event TELAstory: Meet the Makers, it surprised me to learn of a couple of designers and fashion entrepreneurs trying to change the industry’s focus from fashion at all costs, to fashion created ethically, responsibly and sustainably.

Related Post: The Real Cost of Fast Fashion: An Essay Exploring the Fashion Industry’s Social and Environmental Issues

To serve as inspiration to students, designers and fashion lovers, here are some must-watch fashion documentaries to help you understand the industry’s social and environmental impacts and learn how you can help bring sustainability, dignity, respect and ethics back into the industry.

The True Cost

If you only have time to watch one documentary about fast fashion, this is our choice. The True Cost, a 2015 documentary film about the impact of fashion on the planet and the people, explores the dark side of fashion and exposes the truth behind it. This industry exposé has prompted many to reevaluate their shopping habits and ask themselves whether their love of fashion justifies human rights violations and environmental destruction.

Related Post: Uncovering The True Cost of Fashion with Filmmaker Andrew Morgan


Did you know it takes 2,700 litres of water – enough water for one person to consume in two and a half years – to make one cotton shirt? The documentary RiverBlue helps us understand how the fashion industry is killing one of the most important sources of water and marine life – our rivers. The film follows conservationist Mark Angelo as he travels the globe to dive deep into the one of the world’s most polluting industry, fashion. What we learn is shocking. For example, we learn that the Noyyal River in India has become a dumping ground for toxic dyes which contain hazardous materials that don’t break down and impact the health of the river and its ecosystem as well as human health.

Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion

In this documentary film, Blur bassist Alex James explores and scrutinizes the world of fashion. He takes a closer look at consumers’ insatiable desire for cheap clothing and how it’s taking a huge toll on the environment and the workers making the clothing. However, Alex doesn’t just investigate the horrible impacts and then leave us feeling helpless, through Slowing Down Fast Fashion aims to seek fashion solutions.

China Blue

Directed by Michael Peled, the 2006 documentary China Blue follows the life of a young worker named Jasmine Li from Sichuan province. She works in a blue jeans factory and is exposed to a harsh working environment. In the process, it uncovers the truth behind denim fashion; the truth which China and the international retail companies that manufacture there, have kept hidden from the world for so long.

The Next Black

We thought we would throw in an uplifting film that focusses not so much on the industry problems but rather the future of clothing from a sustainability and technology perspective. The Next Black brings together designers and innovators from around the globe to discuss not what’s new, but what’s next in the fashion industry. The beautifully crafted film features pioneers and industry leaders who brainstorm and collaborate to create solutions that will shape the industry, including sustainable outdoor apparel brand Patagonia; tech-clothing giant Studio XO and biomaterials consultancy Biocouture.

Related Post: Fashion Made From Food Waste: From Banana Silk to Flax Linen

“Fashion is the first step out of poverty. You have nothing and then you put something on. It is one of the first things you do to elevate yourself,” says Miuccia Prada. But wouldn’t it be more fulfilling when the clothes you wear also elevates those who made them? Wouldn’t it be more fulfilling if, instead of just elevating yourself, that you honoured the planet with which the materials in your clothing came?

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Title image via Unsplash.

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