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Top 9 fast fashion documentaries that will change the way you shop

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

The days are getting shorter and colder, and the season is perfect for a cozy blanket, hot tea, and some movie watching time. This season, we recommend including some fashion documentaries.


Documentaries are an easy and accessible way to learn about the fashion industry, without having to leave your couch. In the sea of information about fashion online, the documentaries are a great start. They usually tell a rounded story in an organized way and are backed with voluble facts.

If you are not sure where to start-don’t worry! We bring you a list of the top 9 fast-fashion documentaries guaranteed to change the way you shop!

1.True Cost (2015)

Length: 1h 32 min

Let’s start this list with a strong one. A simple way to describe True Cost would be to say that it is a story about the clothes we wear daily, about the people who are making them, and the impact they have on the planet. But there’s a reason why this documentary became a cult in the past 5 years. Filmed across the world, this was one of the first big movies that shined the light on the realities of the garment workers. It also shows in detail the high cost of a low price tag. Rare documentaries are filmed so well and discuss so convincingly what greed does to the world.

Why watch: 

This is a beginner-friendly documentary that offers a holistic view of the fast fashion industry today. It touches upon the raw realities of many people, making them closer to the average consumer. It is a great movie to watch if you don’t know much about the industry. Yet, we guarantee that everyone watching it can learn something from it.



2.   The Story of Stuff (2007)

Length: 21 min (animation)

The Story of Stuff is a short, animated movie that is about everything we buy. Though it is not specifically fashion related, it gives a good basis to understand the impact of consumerism. The main message of the movie is that every single thing we buy comes with a footprint and waste, even before it reaches us. It encourages us to think about the full lifecycle of consumer goods, which is definitely relevant for the clothes we buy too.

Why watch: 

This is a good and basic conversation about consumerism and a good reason to rethink our buying habits. Nowadays, most of us are detached from how things are made and disposed of. The Story of Stuff bridges that knowledge gap, in a simple and beginner-friendly manner.

Watch full movie:


3.   RiverBlue (2016)

Length: 1h 35min

This movie will make you wonder how clean your clothes are.

The fashion industry is a water intense industry that contributes to 20% of the global industrial water pollution. From the toxic chemicals used in the washing and dyeing processes to unregulated wastewater disposal, fashion is damaging the rivers across the world. RiverBlue explores the subject, exposing the effects it has on the people depending on those rivers.  

Why watch: 

RiverBlue has a more narrow focus than the previous two documentaries on this list. It is a good source to deepen your knowledge of the water impact of fashion. The movie addresses our buying habits but seeks to inspire change and solutions.



4.   The Machinists (2010)

Length: 52min

Over the decades, big fashion brands moved their production overseas, to countries with cheaper labour costs. In the past several years, Bangladesh emerged as the second biggest producing country, right after China. The Machinists shows the reality behind outsourcing fashion production. As you may guess, the reality is highly problematic. This movie documents the garment workers in Bangladesh, with a focus on three young women working in factories in Dhaka.

Why watch: 

Unlike the previous movies on the list, The Machinists focuses on the personal stories of the garment workers. It shows the hard, lonely life of women and the real issues they are dealing with. From long working hours, late pay checks, and below the living wage earnings, the movie is good in showing how the industry's exploitative and dysfunctional model translates into lived experience.



5.   Machines (2016)

Length: 1h 15min

If it sounds like a newer version of the previous documentary, in a way that is what Machines is. This movie explores the long and hard work of the man and young boys in a textile factory in India. In many aspects, it compliments the movie number 4 and gives another insight into the lives of the garment workers. The Machines is filmed interestingly, with no music or voiceover, to paint an image of the 12 hour long shifts and monotonous work the subjects go through daily.

Why watch: 

This is another documentary that focuses on individuals and stories, instead of capturing the big picture. Even if the subjects of the movie share a similar fate, the movie shows their unique position. Additionally, the movie portraits the perspective of their boss who shows no intentions to change the system. It is likely to make you angry.



6.   Bitter Seeds (2011)

Length: 1h 30min

Bitter Seeds discusses the issues that are happening at the beginning of the fashion supply chain- the cotton farms. In particular, the movie is about biotech farming in India and the cause of suicide among the farmers. It exposes the financial and psychological pressure that the farmers experience, as well as the unrealistic prices of the biotech cotton seeds and the effects of the pesticide use.

Why watch: 

While other documentaries put the garment workers in the focus, Bitter Seeds demonstrates that the supply chain doesn’t start there. In line with the Fashion Revolution’s #whatsinmyclothes campaign, it is important to think about the labour and the resources that go into the fashion fabrics. We should warn you that the movie discusses suicide and it may be hard to watch. Nevertheless, it is a valuable resource.  



7.   Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)

Length: 1h 40min

Another documentary on the list that is not directly about the fashion industry, but is relevant to it. The power of the Walmart movie lies in demonstrating the fact that the workers across the supply chain face problems caused by big corporations. The movie shows the exploitative practices of Walmart and the effects their policies have on the communities and individuals. Though many things are company-specific, these issues are common across the industries.

Why watch: 

The farmers and garment workers are paying a high price for our consumerist habits and corporate greed. Yet, the Walmart movie shows that the same has an impact on the people who are geographically much closer to us. In fact, only a few profit from this system, and this movie is here to prove that.



8.   Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion (2016)

Length: 1h 5min

Alex James is a musician who looks at the fashion industry and dives to the core of the consumerism and the consequences of our shopping habits. In the documentary, he talks to designers, activists, and brands and shows that there is a sense of urgency and the need for change. What sets this movie apart is the critical position Alex James takes and his acknowledgment that he, as a consumer, is also a part of the problem.

Why watch: 

If the previous documentaries on the list left you feel hopeless, this one might change that. Similar to others, it talks about the issues of the industry. But it seeks solutions and the hope, bringing a refreshing perspective. In many ways, it is easier to watch than many other documentaries and an is a good source of inspiration.



9.   The Next Black (2014)

Length: 47 min

It seems appropriate to end this list with a look at the future of the fashion industry. The Next Black gathers designers, innovators, and leaders from across the world and discusses the very concept of clothing. The documentary is not interested in the trends but investigates the ideas and technology that could change how we produce and use clothes in the near future. If you are interested in sustainability and technology in the broader sense, you might want to see how they merge with fashion.

Why watch: 

Once you have your basics covered and you get familiar with the issues that the industry creates, you might start wondering if the fashion as we know it has any future. This movie might bring you some answers. There are many great ideas and technologies existing today, which can challenge the industry’s status quo. The Next Black is a great insight into that world.



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