10 documentaries on sustainability in fashion

Elizabeth Smith

Ten films and documentaries that address the theme of sustainability in fashion. The essential titles to understand the industry, its distortions, its logic and its consequences.

Among the most popular topics is the story of the impact that the textile industry has on people. Through fictionalized stories, direct testimonies and investigations, these nine titles represent a good way to get to know the problem of worker exploitation in depth.

Another aspect that has been much investigated in these works is that of overproduction. What happens to the clothes we throw away, sometimes practically new in the West? What consequences do they have on the ecosystems and social fabric of the countries where they are taken for disposal?

The True Cost (2015)

Produced among others by Livia Firth, this documentary examines the clothes we wear, the people who they produce them and the impact the industry has on our world.

While the cost of clothing has decreased over the decades, the human and environmental costs have increased dramatically.

RiverBlue (2016)

No one should have the right to pollute waterways, yet the fashion industry does so without major consequences. Riverblue follows Canadian environmentalist Mark Angelo on a journey that crosses the world to show the consequences that one of the most polluting industries in the world has on waterways.

Rags (2021)

Written by Silvia Gambi, journalist and author of the Solo Moda Sostenibile content platform, Stracci starts from an Italian reality, the textile district of Prato, to broaden its gaze to Accra and give an account not only of the environmental impact of the fashion industry. But also of the results that can be achieved through the recycling of fabrics.

The Machinists (2010)

This British documentary explores the daily lives of garment factory workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In particular, the film follows three women workers and a union leader who fight for fair wages, better working conditions and dignity in the textile industry.

Through the personal stories of the protagonists, the documentary highlights the challenges faced by workers. Including grueling working hours, minimum wages and financial uncertainties.

Unravel (2012)

This short documentary was created with the aim of helping viewers understand what happens to the immense production of waste in the fashion industry. When clothes are discarded in the West they do not disappear. But become someone else’s burden, generally in a country very poor.

In the case of Unravel it is the North. Where the small town of Panipat is a collection center for discarded clothes to create recycled yarn.

Junk: Closets Full (2023)

Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, India and Italy. This six-episode docu-series signed by activist Matteo Ward and produced by Will Media and Sky explores the impact of fast fashion on people and the environment starting from places. Thus telling the stories of those who experience the consequences of overproduction firsthand.

In the episodes dedicated to Chile and Ghana, the theme of the world’s textile landfills is explored. There, tons of clothes discarded elsewhere arrive in a continuous cycle.

Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets (2018)

This documentary, written by investigative journalist Stacey Dooley and broadcast for the first time by the BBC in 2018, addresses the issue of water, focusing on the enormous quantity necessary for the cultivation of cotton, a widely used but also extremely wasteful fabric in terms of resources.

Made in Bangladesh (2019)

Directed by Rubaiyat Hossain, Made in Bangladesh is the story of women garment factory workers and their struggle for dignity.

The protagonist is called Shimu, she is 23 years old and works in a clothing factory in Dacca, Bangladesh, in inhumane working conditions. For this reason, she decides together with some colleagues to found a union.

Closing the Loop (2018)

“Closing the Loop” was the first documentary in the world on the circular economy. Directed by Graham Sheldon, director who won two Telly® Awards and an Emmy® Award, it explores how the transition to a circular model is an essential condition for the sector textile.

The feature film focuses on the transition from the current linear economy of produce-use-waste to a circular economy of produce-use-bring back to life.

Ethical entanglements (2020)

Lucia Mauri and Lorenzo Malavolta signed this documentary produced by Luma Video, which highlights the current revolution underway in Italy to make the fashion sector more sustainable.

The film explores different aspects of slow fashion and sustainable fashion in the country. Thus recounting the realities of those who deal with natural fibers and fabrics, those who produce only to order, those who transform waste into resources and, finally, those who use fragile and has decided to commit to bringing value to its territory.

Read also: The cost of fast fashion industry: the human, social and economic impact

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