The real price tag of fast fashion

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The fashion documentary "The True Cost," which first screened in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, shines light on the hidden realities behind the cheap price tag of fast fashion. Screencap from THE TRUE COST/LIFE IS MY MOVIE ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It's hard not to feel even a tad morose after watching “The True Cost,”  a full-length documentary detailing the often-concealed evils of the fast fashion industry. First screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, the Andrew Morgan film is a loaded 92 minutes, packed enough to leave even the most avid fast fashion enthusiasts with the question: "What are my cheap clothes really worth?"

Apparently, your ridiculously affordable pair of jeans costs more than you think. In the movie, two-dollar tops and the rest of fast fashion's inexpensive clothing dance to the tune of farmer suicides, toxic poisoning on cotton fields, strenuous, barely-paid woman and child labor, and thousands killed in dangers caused by haphazardly-built garment factories — the unsettling, often shocking realities shown in “The True Cost” make it difficult for viewers to remain tone-deaf on the issue. The movie aims to undress the padded realities of fashion and how it is advertised, stripped down to reveal the harsh conditions and repercussions of producing a piece of clothing that's sold dirt cheap.

The movie was screened for the first time in the Philippines by Fashion Revolution, a London-founded, international nonprofit that advocates toward sustainable and ethical fashion. Barely three years old but with volunteer bases in over 90 countries, the organization, founded by fashion designers Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, both of whom are sustainable fashion and upcycling advocates, runs the same battlecry as the film: to patronize clothing that is environmentally conscious and that provides humane working conditions and fair pay to the people who create them.

"Because of the rapid economic development in the Philippines, I felt that among Southeast Asian countries, we should be able to cultivate a thriving movement for sustainable and ethical fashion," says Sophia Calugay, Fashion Revolution's country coordinator in the Philippines. "Great practices are currently in place, such as upcycling used clothes into woven rags … or [brands such as] Siklo Pilipinas who recycles used tires into bags, or Lumago Designs who makes jewelry out of soda can tabs … I think what they do are great. Our aim is to inform as much people as we can that these initiatives exist."

In the movie, two-dollar tops and the rest of fast fashion's inexpensive clothing dance to the tune of farmer suicides, toxic poisoning on cotton fields, strenuous, barely-paid woman and child labor, and thousands killed in dangers caused by haphazardly-built garment factories.

Lumago Designs, a Dumaguete-based social enterprise, employs ten women from the Candau-Ay Community, a short distance away from the province dumpsite. Here they scour for scraps to upcycle into crafted accessories: paper, plastic bottles, bamboo scraps, and used fabric are intercepted from the wasteland, sanitized, and turned into fashion merchandise sold locally and exported abroad. A share of the profits are given back to the community.

But as the conversation of a sustainable, "slow fashion" lifestyle choice unravels, so does a discussion of its financial implications. Because most sustainable and ethical fashion brands have a smaller, more stringent production flow than rapid, mass-producing brands, products often turn out to be thrice as expensive as their fast fashion alternatives, with lesser choices at hand.

Fashion Revolution is quick to reassure that there are cost-effective ways to practice sustainable fashion. "Sometimes, sustainable fashion starts simply with buying less," emphasizes Hannah Thiesen, events and fundraising coordinator at Fashion Revolution. The organization recommends creative ideas to make the practice more affordable: clothes swapping, secondhand shopping, and reworking old pieces are advised to kickstart the slow fashion movement.

Both “The True Cost” and Fashion Revolution reinforce a little-known fact that's often concealed from the public: fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, next only to oil. And as globalization lubricates the entry of gigantic fast fashion brands into more countries all over the world, they're quick to remind consumers that "cheap" often comes with a hefty price tag.

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For more information about Fashion Revolution, or to volunteer for the organization, visit fashionrevolution.org.