As a more connected, more transparent global community we are becoming increasingly aware of the apparel industry’s impact on people and the environment. There are many layers of complexity behind the apparel industry, but one area that has not been discussed in depth is, as Mark Angelo states, “next to oil, fashion in its broadest sense, fast fashion, to leather to denim, is the next biggest industrial polluter of the worlds waterways.”
RIVERBLUE is a powerful documentary that follows Mark Angelo across the world, while providing insight into the apparel industry’s direct impact on waterways through abundant water over consumption and toxic chemical waste.
The film takes a deep dive into production of denim as over 3.6 billion jeans are produced annually worldwide, with each pair of jeans utilizing approximately 920 gallons of water to make.
Although it’s hard to comprehend what this really means, Mark explained “it is really important for people to realize, environmentally, everything is interconnected and when you see toxins from an Asian textile mill showing up in the tissue of a North American polar bear you realize these are issues we should all care about, regardless of where we live.”
Narrated by clean water supporter, Jason Priestley, RIVERBLUE includes interviews by many of those impacted by the industry, those that have done extreme environmental research and those that are providing solutions.
While powerful in providing the facts and visually shocking with imagery of rivers completely polluted and human suffering, the film is real, raw, and not trying to hide behind the beauty of the fashion industry.
At the same time, it inspires hope for change in the industry and provides a call to action for more sustainable fashion.
“We saw some glimmers of hope along the way—a few examples where rivers had actually improved—but the overriding reality was that many of the world’s rivers are in a state of crisis,” Angelo says. “Many are in deep trouble. We saw a number of others that were literally lifeless.”
While seeing these glimmers of hope, Angelo discusses the Thames River in London and how a river can regenerate and reestablish its ecosystem, and river advocates in Bangladesh that have said enough is enough.
Luigi Caccia, President of Italdenim, discusses how in the past 40 years the apparel industry in Italy has changed the treatment of their cotton and production of denim. He represents those that are making change possible. Many new technologies such as Jeanology’s laser technology to create acid wash jeans, are introduced throughout the film that are changing the way apparel is produced and how it provides sustainable solutions.
“The goal of RIVERBLUE is to change an industry, to make the fashion industry more sustainable, more ethical,” Angelo says. “Who would have known a decade ago that there would now be a very significant market for organic foods, free run eggs or sustainable produce, that’s because the public demanded it and the industry adjusted and adapted. The same thing can happen in fashion.”
As Treana Peake, founder of Obakki, stated after watching the film “It is so hard to watch what we are doing to our world. I think the part where they were flashing back and forth between reality and the runway shows really hit home. I am so thankful that we do local manufacturing and I loved the quote, ‘You can’t outsource your production and think you’ve outsourced your responsibility.’ WOW. That says it all.”
What action can you take?
As a fashion company can’t outsource their responsibility, neither can we as consumers. It is easy to assume that the waters affected in Indonesia won’t directly affect us, but the world waters are connected and forever moving, regardless of where we live – water connects every one of us.
“When you come right down to it, water is life,” Angelo says. “Rivers are the arteries of the planet. Our rivers are literally lifelines in the truest sense.”
“Seeing RIVERBLUE receiving so much attention from the public is a real reward,” says Myriam Laroche, founder of Eco Fashion Week. “It shows that the people understand more about the impact of the textile industry on our planet and are looking to be part of the change. It is the perfect time to inspire consumers to look at apparel labels, ask questions about how their clothes are made and where they are from. Be curious, be informed and don’t judge.”
We learn the facts, we see the impact, we are moved by the documentary, but what do we do in our daily lives? How do we create change through the clothes we wear? How do you become an advocate for clean water, healthy rivers and eco-conscious clothing? Below are a few concepts and ideas on how you can take action.
1. Be aware of who you purchase from
Choose companies that are being honest and open in their sustainability journey and are currently taking authentic action. Companies like:
- Patagonia – don’t buy this jacket campaign
- Nicole Bridger – Local, eco conscious designer
- Obbakki – Social impact
2. Buy quality and durability
Buy product that will last through your daily tasks, activities, and the adventures you take it on. Buy styles that will last through the seasons. Choose long lasting, natural fibers that are stain resistant (like wool) and more durable.
3. Care for your clothing
Take a class in repairing your clothing, spot clean instead of washing all the time, and wash on cold and hang to dry.
4. Return, reuse, resell, donate
Think about the life of your clothing after you are done with them – can you take them into Value Village? There they’ll decide if the items can be resold, donated, or, if they have stains, might need to be turned into rags.
Do your friends want your clothes? If so, have a clothing swap. Or try selling them on a community website.
5. Ask questions
Where was the clothing produce? What is the environmental and social impact? Are there standards on the company’s production? What is the clothing made of? Is it natural or synthetic fibers?
RiverBlue Vancouver screenings
When: Thursday, March 9 from 5 to 9 pm (including filmmaker Q&A)
Where: BCIT Telus Theatre (SE6 233) – 3700 Willingdon Avenue, Burnaby
When: Friday, March 10 at 7:30 pm (including filmmaker Q&A)
Where: Centennial Theatre – 2300 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver
Over 15 more screenings are planned to take place around the world. Find out if a screening is happening near you here.