There’s plenty to learn about when it comes to ethics and sustainability related issues in the fashion industry. While it’s important to understand where our clothes, shoes and bags come from – and at what price – it can be overwhelming. Films and short videos are a great way to begin to understand big and complex problems, immersing ourselves in a world of information. So, here’s some of the best films and short videos to learn about ethical fashion.
What do we mean by ethical fashion?
When we refer to ‘ethical fashion’, we really mean ‘total ethics fashion’, which is fashion that protects people, animals and the planet alike. This term, from Collective Fashion Justice, is important, as too often ‘ethical fashion’ is considered to only be about humans, while some other brands use the ‘vegan’ label, without considering humans. It’s important that we all are treated ethically and have a healthy planet to live on, so these films explore the ways in which the fashion industry impacts us all, regardless of species.
SLAY is a new feature-length documentary which poses the question; “is it acceptable to kill animals for fashion?”. Exploring the often hidden realities behind fur, leather and wool production, this film is a global investigation into green-washing, environmental, human and of course, animal harms.
This film is not graphic, but informative, factual and thought-provoking. It features a wide range of people from the fashion industry, including Joshua Katcher, the designer behind Brave Gentleman, Collective Fashion Justice’s founding director Emma Hakansson, famous fashion photographer Alexi Lubomirski, and experts from Vogue, the London College of Fashion, and many others.
2. The True Cost
Considered a canonical film in the ethical fashion space, The True Cost was released in 2015, and explores the global impact of the fashion industry on the people who make our clothes, as well as the environment, when clothes are mass produced.
This film is about greed, fear, power, poverty and the link between fashion, consumerism and capitalism, according to Lucy Siegle, a Guardian fashion journalist who is a part of the film. With just 2% of garment workers estimated to be paid a fair living wage, and with the vast majority of these people being women of colour, fashion has some serious racial and feminist issues to unpack and transform.
3. The Toxic Price of Leather
This Pulitzer Center supported short film is just over 9 minutes long, and it packs a punch. Documenting the leather tanning industry of Kanpur, India, filmmaker Sean Gallagher uncovers the often unseen human harms of leather production. Pollution, poisoned agricultural fields, child labour, blindness, disability, cancer and permanent body scarring due to the toxic substances used in the tanning industry all run rife in Kanpur, a major leather producer for the west.
The Toxic Price of Leather hears directly from tannery workers and community leaders, which is important in a time where first person perspectives are too often missing, and others speak to the lived experiences of those who are less often afforded a platform to share from.
4. Willow and Claude
A 20 minute short film from not-for-profit Collective Fashion Justice, Willow and Claude is named after two sheep rescued from the wool industry. This film explores what it means to create total ethics knitwear which aims to protect people, animals and the planet.
First uncovering the cruelty behind wool, followed by the environmental problems associated with synthetic knitwear, this multi-award winning film traces the creation of a supply chain from farm to finished product, showing the importance of transparency and careful production. A solutions-focussed film, this one isn’t graphic, and spends more time on how we can move forward, rather than on what’s wrong with fashion today.
Another short film recorded in India, Unravel sheds light on what happens to the clothes we discard or in some cases, send to op-shops, in the western world. In Northern India, these clothes – often brand new – are shredded. The women working in these facilities, who are unsure of why the clothes are being discarded – speak amongst themselves about the wastefulness of the west. Their observations are sure to pause you in your tracks.
This film helps us to understand the global impacts of more local decisions, and decisions that may seem like ‘individual choices’ – but which have broad reaching implications.
6. 73 Cows
While this film doesn’t present itself as a ‘fashion film’, the short is relevant to the leather industry which transforms the skins of cows into materials. Created by Lockwood Film, 73 Cows follows the story of Jay Wilde, who inherited his cattle farm from his father, but who no longer feels comfortable sending cows to slaughter.
In just 15 minutes, 73 Cows paints a touching, emotional story of what happens when we listen to our conscience and decide to make a new start. In the film, Jay moves to veganic, animal-free farming.
7. Made in Bangladesh
A fiction film rather than a documentary, this Bangladeshi woman directed film is based on the true stories of women working creating clothes in a country producing many for the wider world. The 23 year old protagonist is inspired to start a union at the garment factory where she works, and faces union busting and threats.
A number of scenes are reminiscent of real events, like the collapse of Rana Plaza, and the very real dangers women face working in the global fashion industry for a poverty wage.
8. River Blue
Following a conservationist across many of the world’s rivers, this 2016 film explores the issue of water pollution, and how fashion contributes to it. While we don’t often think about how the materials making up our clothes, shoes and bags are dyed, these dyes can have harmful impacts on the environment. Many dyes include heavy metals, are non-biodegradable and even toxic.
This film highlights a part of the fashion industry that’s often forgotten to exist.