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RiverBlue – A Documentary Review

Mark Angelo from RiverBlue

RiverBlue made its much anticipated debut this fall at the Vancouver International Film Festival. The film chronicles the high environmental cost of fast fashion and how the industry has destroyed some of the world’s greatest rivers.

I came to know about this film through my education at BCIT. Mark Angelo, one of the producers and onscreen face of the film, has ties to the program I attended. Mark is a river activist, paddler, conservationist, and teacher but more importantly the Founder and Chair of BC Rivers Day and World Rivers Day. To say he has a passion for the conservation of global rivers is a huge understatement.

RiverBlue focuses on larger rivers that border many towns and cities in the fashion industry such as: Ganges River India, Citarum River Indonesia, Buriganga River Bangladesh, Yellow River China and many more. Throughout the film environmental professionals and activist are interviewed regarding the low environmental standards in these countries where labour and materials are cheaper than if produced domesticly. There are no regulations regarding toxic runoff from denim and tannery factories in these regions. The majority of run-off flows directly into major waterways that are relied on for drinking, bathing, as a food source and in the case of the Gagnes River for spiritual practices. One fashion designer in the film goes as far to say you are able to tell the new colours of the season by looking at the rivers.

Chemicals found in the affected waterways result from the dyeing and distressing process our jeans go through to get that well-worn look, or dark indigo and acid wash colours. Many of these chemicals have been linked to outbreaks of certain types of cancer, short life span and other disease in countries such as China and India. Not only are these chemicals toxic to people, but they are extremely detrimental to the health of the rivers ecosystem. Many of these rivers have such a low dissolved oxygen content that fish and aquatic plants cannot survive. In regions where you can still catch fish they are loaded with chemicals via bioaccumulation. Another concern is the amount of raw sewage that already contaminates most of these rivers due to poor city infrastructure and waste management plans.

Photo from RiverBlue Film

Now that you know the doom and gloom of the fashion industry there is some good news. Many large organizations and independent designers have opened their eyes to the destruction their industry has caused. Some fashion manufactures are using lasers and steam to distress jeans, others are using more natural processes that don’t use carcinogens or environment harming chemicals in the dying process. Many others use organic cotton, have better conditions with living wages for labourers, use less toxic materials such as polyester and sustainably sourced materials.

Our mission here isn’t to point fingers at those stores and manufactures that use bad practices, but to open your eyes to the idea that cheap fashion comes at a high cost. This is something I rarely thought about when purchasing a $8 tshirt. I liked it, it was cheap, I bought it. Simple as that. I regularly frequented many of these blacklisted stores, BUT after I watched the film I felt incredibly guilty about the contents of my dresser and closet. I vowed to do my research and learn which brands I should be shopping and explore other options such as thrift stores, upcycling, making my own garments or clothing swaps.

In the end I found RiverBlue to be beautifully filmed, smartly researched, and truly inspiring to those who wish to lead a more sustainable way of life. If you are interested in doing your own research to find out which companies are using unsustainable and toxic practices it is easy to find with a quick google search. If you are interested in this topic another documentary to check out is The True Cost. To support the boycott of these stores and brands you can check out Greenpeace Detox or Yourchoice-Yourvoice which was created by the producers of RiverBlue. This website directs you to eco-friendly brands and gives you some more information on what you can do to make a difference.

We’ll be exploring this topic further in future posts, sharing our ideas and tips on how to replace fast fashion practices with slow fashion. If you just can’t wait here is a good look at what slow fashion is all about.

All photos courtesy of RiverBlue

Have a favourite eco & ethical fashion brand? Share with us below!

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