Last week I had the pleasure of watching eco fashion documentary Riverblue on the big screen. It was my first time seeing the film (surprisingly, I’d not heard of it until this year!) and I was excited to see how we’re progressing from filthy fashion norms to new innovative methods.
The screening was held by Advaya Initiative, an environmental and wellbeing platform set up by sister duo Ruby and Christabel Reed. Their organisation hosts events spreading awareness and positivity for the planet, spanning yoga and nature retreats to slow fashion talks.
The Riverblue film came out in 2016, but its contents is still relevant – if not more relevant – today. If you’re anything like me, you dived into watching ethical fashion documentaries when first asking the question #WhoMadeMyClothes and were shocked to discover that fashion negatively affects so many people and places. The number one cited documentary is The True Cost, but Riverblue could easily be its sequel.
The film documents how our planet and people’s welfare is quite literally being sold down the river in return for fast fashion trends and stonewashed jeans. International river conservationist Mark Angelo travels across the world (to Bangladesh, India, China, Italy, and even London) documenting the harsh chemical manufacturing processes and the irresponsible disposal of toxic chemical waste from clothing manufacturers.
Throughout the film, you see instances of people and rivers being exposed to harmful chemicals, rivers getting frothy from filthy dyes and treatments used on clothing.
It was sad to see that in India, the sacred river Ganges is also affected. The river is historically revered to cleanse all that wade into it, and yet it’s not untouched from the factories dumping waste in it. Sadder still is the hesitance of the people who pay respect to the Ganges, who don’t want to deny its cleansing powers and recognise that something needs to be done to stop it from being polluted.
Outsourcing the responsibility
In one section of the film, you see members of Greenpeace take samples of waste being dumped into a river from a clothing manufacturer, and they confirm its toxicity. Yet when they reach out to brands who use the factory, such as Gap, they’re given a run-of-the-mill response saying the brand has a policy to only work with suppliers who dispose of their waste responsibly. It’s PR-speak at its finest, and it shows the real issue here – western brands governed by western laws are making the most of less developed countries and their illegitimate activities in order to make profit.
What angers me the most…
While I rarely speak about my disappointment and despair for the way a lot of commercial, fast fashion brands operate (preferring to sing the praises of more responsible slow fashion), I can’t hold back the fact that a lot of big fast fashion brands are abusing people and the planet in order to get richer. It’s not to get rich, it’s not even to survive – it’s to get richer still.
I know that when I write about ethical fashion, I do so from a seat of privilege – one that already has water, food, shelter, and relationships taken care of. I know that for most, their worries needn’t be stretched to the sourcing of their clothes, items, holidays, because they need to focus on looking after themselves and their closest relations. But I’m also mightily aware of big fashion brands that serve people who can afford to buy better, who have enough disposable income to enjoy whimsical trends and have multiple versions of the same garment. And they should be the ones who source responsibly, pay fair wages, and don’t screw down on their costs at the detriment of their workers – whether outsourced or not – and the planet to increase their profit.
If you have the opportunity to purchase better, please spend the time looking for more ethical fashion brands, or at least be aware of the best places to shop on the high street. The Fashion Transparency Index by Fashion Revolution is a brilliant place to start, or feel free to ask me for recommendations.
I have to add that the film isn’t all doom and gloom. It takes stonewashed jeans as an example of how a simple wardrobe staple can have dirty beginnings (using strong chemicals such as potassium permanganate to get the stonewashed effect) and how innovation is changing that – whether it’s through using powdered crab shell waste, lasers, or big drums full of stones. It’s a step in the right direction, and if we can support it by buying from manufacturers who care, we’re encouraging the next steps too.
If you are indeed looking for a good pair of jeans (good meaning good fit, style and story), here’s my newly-updated guide to ethical denim and jeans.
Photo credit: Freestocks.org