Film Explores 'The True Cost' Of Clothing Manufacturing: Latest In Sustainable Practices Series At Orpheum

By: Rowan Wood

Topics: Film

A scene from the film “The True Cost,” a documentary about the human and environmental cost of clothing manufacturing.  COURTESY PHOTO

Sustainable Practices, a Cape-wide non-profit organization, is hosting the Sustainability Film Series at the Chatham Orpheum Theater. The documentary screening series began in the fall of 2017 and is returning on Sept. 1 at 10 a.m. with “The True Cost,” a film that tackles the topic of where clothes come from.

“It’s about the clothes we wear,” reads the official synopsis, “the people who make them, and the impact the clothing industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically.”

“The True Cost” was filmed in countries all around the world, and “provides the viewer with a stronger understanding of how consumption choices have a global impact,” according to Sustainable Practices Executive Director Madhavi Venkatesan.

Beginning with “The True Cost,” the Orpheum will screen one film a month as a part of the Sustainability Film Series. The next films are “Plastic China” on Oct. 8, “Wasted!” on Nov. 3, and “The Island of the Whales” on Dec. 3. All of the films will be screened at 10 a.m.

“I receive solicitations to screen films from multiple vendors,” said Venkatesan. “I choose films that align to sustainability (economic equity, environmental justice and social justice) and the focus of Sustainable Practices, promoting educational awareness of the relationship between consumption and environmental and ecosystem degradation to catalyze the transition from a consumer-based society to a sustainability focused society.

“Every day we make choices and make purchases based on needs but most often, given our consumer focused culture, wants. Typically, the prices we pay do not reflect the true cost; most costs do not factor the qualitative impact of pollution to the environment or a non-living wage to workers since the market costs of these may be realized only years later (extinction, water contamination) or only indirectly (public funds for health care).

“These costs,” she continued, “arguably are borne by the most vulnerable in society and the most vulnerable, essentially, then subsidize the consumption largess of the least vulnerable. Lower prices in turn lead to over consumption — and arguably further exploitation of the most vulnerable as well as a need for the perpetuation of poverty. The lack of acknowledgment, understanding or connection between environmental degradation, poverty and consumption needs to be highlighted. It is the conduit for sustainability, and what I consider to be synonymous, our humanity.”

In addition to showing films, Sustainable Practices are also hosting a film contest, open to all Cape Cod residents. The deadline for submissions has recently been extended to Dec. 31, with the contest set to take place Feb. 2. The contest is specific to short educational films with a sustainability theme.

“Reading does not convey the impact of environmental and social justice in the same manner as a documentary,” said Venkatesan. “So, though I do write about sustainability, I view film as a significant contribution to achieving the emotional and personal impact needed to establish traction of sustainability in routine decision-making.” Winners will receive a bronze “Steward” award.

It isn’t just awareness that Sustainable Practices is trying to create. On Sept. 23, the organization is facilitating a simultaneous 15-town Barnstable County beach cleanup. This event is funded by Sustainable Practice’s local sponsor, By-the-Bay Designs, and supported by the nonprofit 4Ocean.

After the event, 4Ocean will make and sell bracelets out of recycled materials; the sales of the bracelets support the removal of plastic from the ocean. From one pound of plastic, one bracelet will be made.

“The beach clean-up is important, not just to beautify the beach, but to to raise awareness of our collective responsibility to protect our environment,” said Venkatesan. “By promoting the beach cleanup across the Cape, we hope to establish a stronger cohesive community by town and county.”

Volunteers are still needed from each town for the cleanup, which will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. Interested parties should contact Sustainable Practices through their website,, or by emailing More details about cleanup locations will be announced closer to the date.

Venkatesan said Sustainable Practices is also working a Cape-wide plastic bottle ban. Working with pro bono legal counsel, the group is drafting a citizen's petition for each town's spring town meeting warrants. The goal of the proposed regulation is to eliminated procurement and distribution of plastic bottled beverages by town government. The government is an organization established by the people to protect the welfare of the people and plastic is a known environmental and human health hazard, she said.

Earlier this year the organization hosted a screening in each of the Cape's 15 towns of “Divide in Concord,” a documentary of the first commercial ban on plastic water bottles in Concord.