A lot of us want to reduce our impact and footprint on the planet, and for many it starts with having a good look in our wardrobes. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world and it impacts millions of people around the globe.
What can we do? Where do we start? How do we know what’s good and what’s bad?
Documentaries and short videos are a great way to learn more about the fashion industry and familiarise ourselves with the most common issues. There are also many sustainable fashion books and ethical podcasts out there to supplement your learning.
Here are some of our favourite documentaries on ethical fashion, fast fashion, and sustainability as a whole. These documentaries are a great place to start: enlightening, shocking, and inspiring all at once. It’s time to get smarter whilst lazing on the couch!
Sustainable fashion documentaries
I’m yet to watch this film without shedding a tear. The True Cost brings to light some shocking facts about the fashion industry that beg the question: who really pays the price for our clothes? This documentary looks at everything from environmental impact, to labour rights abuses in developing countries, to how genetically modified cotton is related to cancer incidence and suicide. It illustrates how the Western world’s demand for cheap, disposable fashion is destroying the planet and lives. When this film came out in 2015, it caused shock waves around the world, and people are still talking about it—it’s a game changer for fashion.
The mass consumption of water that occurs during the production of clothing is often ignored. But approximately 93 billion cubic metres of water are consumed every year in the garment industry, which would be enough to meet the needs of 5 million people. AND, about 20% of our world’s wastewater is a direct result of fabric dyeing and treatment, with this untreated wastewater being pumped back into our water systems, contaminating them with toxins and heavy metals.
Narrated by clean water supporter Jason Priestley, RIVERBLUE is a groundbreaking documentary that examines the destruction of our rivers by the fashion industry, its effect on humanity, and the solutions that inspire hope for a sustainable future.
It’s undeniable: fashion has a huge impact on society. It employs a massive 80 million people globally, most of them (around 80%) women, aged 18-35. In factories across some of the world’s poorest countries, unfair and unsafe conditions are still common.
The Machinists show how the personal stories of three female garment workers and the boss of a fledgling trade union in Dhaka, Bangladesh intersect to portray the human cost of western high street fashion.
Do you know what happens when you throw your clothes away? Well, it’s likely your cast-offs go on a journey east, across the oceans, to India’s industrial interior. From the Kutch District of western India to the northern city of Panipat, garment recyclers turn the huge bales of clothes that come from unfamiliar people and places into yarn. Unravel shows us how the garments are transformed and how these workers construct a picture of the West, using both their imagination and the rumours that travel with the cast-offs.
UDITA follows a turbulent 5 years in the lives of the women at the grass roots of the garment worker’s struggle. From 2010, when organising in the workplace would lead to beatings, sacking, and arrests; through the tragedies of Tazreen and Rana Plaza, to the present day, when the long fight begins to pay dividends. See this vital period through the eyes of the unions’ female members, workers, and leaders.
Fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara are churning out cheap, new clothes every few days, fuelling us to shop more than ever before. In this short documentary, Hasan Minhaj explores how our desire to look “fresh to death” is actually killing the planet.
We’re buying and wearing more clothes than ever, so in this documentary, Alex James, Blur bassist turned cheesemaker, presents a critical look at our disposable approach to clothing and its huge human and environmental cost.
When Leo speaks, we listen. And so he made this film; both a political statement and a desperate call to arms. As a United Nations Messenger of Peace, the Academy Award-winning actor travels to five continents and the Arctic to witness climate change firsthand. He speaks with the Pope, activists in India, scientists in Greenland, and President Obama. And he urges us to think about how we’re impacting our climate. DiCaprio was determined and focused on releasing this film before the US election, and it sends a powerful message to all of us that the future of our planet is a collective human responsibility.
How might your life be better with less? This documentary explores the life of a minimalist, looking at what we think makes us happy, in comparison to what actually does. How? By talking to the experts, of course. Joshua and Ryan take you into the personal lives of those who already live with less, and look at how they find meaning in life. Get ready to be inspired to make your life lighter.
Plastic Paradise is American journalist and filmmaker Angela Sun’s journey to uncover the phenomenon of the Great Pacific garbage patch. Through encounters with scientists, researchers, and volunteers, she shows us that the problem—our reliance on, and consumption of, plastic—is more insidious than we think.
Swiss documentary More Than Honey charts the alarming rate of deaths of bee colonies around the world—from Europe, to Australia, to China. It examines the possible reasons for the deaths—a combination of parasites, viruses, pesticides, and stress.
Food, Inc. focuses on American industrial food production. The filmmakers explore how supermarkets and multinational companies control food systems, with the aim of growing everything “faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper”. The impact of this on our health and the environment will be sure to shock you.
From the co-creator of Cowspiracy comes Seaspiracy, a follow up that illuminates alarming—and not widely known—truths about the widespread environmental destruction to our oceans caused by human behaviour. TW for graphic content.
Earthlings takes an unflinching look at our treatment of animals used for food, fashion, science, and entertainment. The film is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, with haunting music by Moby. Powerful, graphic, and provocative, it’s guaranteed to change the way you view your consumer choices and even humanity itself. TW for graphic content.