In the era of social media, the fashion industry has gotten faster. Trends go viral, and manufacturers like Zara, Uniqlo, and H&M have responded by transforming from seasonal lines, often planned a year in advance, to clothing that goes from factory to store shelves in a matter of weeks.
But there’s a price to all of this surprisingly cheap clothing. The True Cost, a documentary by Andrew Morgan that’s hitting Netflix this week, examines fast fashion’s unadvertised sins, from unregulated production that caused a factory collapse killing more than 1,000 people in Bangledesh in 2013, to the toxic waste spewed out by factories producing disposable garments, to attempts at unionization that are thwarted by violence.
Luckily, it’s a topic that’s getting more attention. In 2013, journalist Elizabeth Cline investigated the industry in her book Over-Dressed. And on a recent episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver targeted the fast fashion industry, detailing its environmental impact and human rights violations in a sad-larious commentary that Oliver has quickly become renowned for.
His most cutting critique, though, applies to all of us. In the era of fast fashion, we’ve developed a collective amnesia about the sweatshop labor practices we rallied against in the ’90s, or maybe a misunderstanding that garment “factories” are really just people sewing the fabric, breathing the chemicals, and even dying when an infrastructure built on fast and cheap fails.