Raindance film festival: Toxic Beauty & Mossville: When Great Trees Fall


Q & A with the director of Toxic Beauty


After seeing two powerful documentaries at the Raindance film festival, I thought to myself that we all have to be activists in this day and age. Recently when I met up with different friends, we would talk about how the world seems to be heading towards a ‘wrong direction’. We are now battling against numerous man-made issues like climate change, pollution, deforestation, inequality, sexual harassment, human rights, religious extremism, refugee crisis, terrorism… the list goes on. The problem is that most politicians in power are not interested in tackling these issues because they care more about staying in power and/or profit-making. When we look at all the leaders around the world today, it is rather depressing and it makes me wonder if our planet has a future.

I think all women need to watch Toxic beauty, a documentary by Canadian director, Phyllis Ellis. The film interviewed a group of women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer as a result of their lifelong use of Johnson & Johnson‘s talcum/baby powder. In recent years, the company has been clobbered by thousands lawsuits alleging that it was aware of the baby powder being contaminated with asbestos, a carcinogen. Although the company has has strongly denied those accusations, it has been paying out billions to settle different lawsuits, including $4.69bn to 22 women ordered by a Missouri jury last year. Coincidently, this week, the company recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder in the US, after health regulators found trace amounts of asbestos in a bottle purchased online. The scary thing is that ever since I was a child, this product has been a staple at my home. This was a family-friendly and reliable brand that consumers trusted, but sadly, it is no longer the case.


TOXIC BEAUTY Trailer from WhitePinePictures


Parallel to the baby powder cases, the film also asked a medical student and cosmetics lover Mymy Nguyen to embark on an experiment to first measure the chemical levels in her body when she used her regular cosmetic products, then without any, and finally replaced them with ‘cleaner’ alternatives. As you can guess, the toxic chemicals in her body dropped significantly when she stopped using her regular cosmetic products.

The slight consolation for people who do not live in the States is that the EU has stricter regulations than the FDA in the US. The EU law bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects. Meanwhile, the FDA bans or restricts only 11 chemicals from cosmetics. But what is more shocking is that the FDA hasn’t updated its cosmetic regulations since 1938, and relies solely on the beauty companies to regulate themselves (?!).

There is a misconception that all natural ingredients are good and all chemical ingredients are bad, which is not true at all. There are many natural ingredients that can be harmful too, so we can’t just blindly trust all the so-called ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ brands. With so many new beauty brands claiming that they are ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ or ‘vegan’, it gets very confusing for consumers who want to change and go clean. Usually clean products are notable to be free of the following ingredients: parabens, phthalates, and sulfates etc, but since preservatives play a very important role in products containing water, the clean beauty companies would have to replace them with natural alternatives. Recently I have downloaded an US-based app called ‘Think dirty‘, which is quite useful as I can check the ingredients of many cosmetics and skincare products on this app. Just like the food we eat, what we use on our faces and bodies are equally important, so we must be more cautious and protect ourselves from the toxic chemicals that hidden inside our expensive lipstick or face cream.


“Mossville: When Great Trees Fall” from Fire River Films


There were not many people at the screening of this fantastic documentary, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, yet it was one of the best I saw at the film festival. The film is about environmental racism, and one man’s fight against the industrial cooperations that have destroyed his hometown. Mossville in Louisiana is a town with predominantly African American inhabitants for generations. It was founded by Jack Moss, an ex-slave, in 1790. Yet chemical pollution emitted by the 14 petrochemical plants in the area has destroyed the town and killed many of its residents including the parents of the film’s protagonist. The South African energy and chemical company Sasol is behind the $21.2 billion industrial project, and in order to expand its massive petrochemical plant, it has issued buyout offers to everyone in town. While everyone has moved away from the site, Stacey Ryan took a stand against this company and stood his ground. He fought hard to save his house despite all the harrassements he had to endure initiated by the company.

It was quite heartbreaking to watch how Ryan health deteriorated as the film progressed, yet he was defiant until the end. Although he did sign the deal at the end, I don’t think anyone would accuse him of giving in too soon! Not only he lost his house, family time, but most importantly, his health, and all the money he got from the buyout deal ended up going towards his medical bills. Tragic.

I am not sure why this film received little attention despite the fact that it had won many awards at different film festivals around the world. I wonder if the protagonist was white, would it be more talked-about? I am not a pessimist by nature, but I have become one when I look at the state of our world today. How many Greta Thunberg is needed to rescue our sick planet? If we continue to allow greedy and powerful coorperations/ governments to run the world, the future of the planet will be bleaker than ever. All of us now have no choice but to become an activist in our own right. It doesn’t have to be attending protests every week, just find a way that suits you, no matter how small the action is.


Sustainable fashion and textiles – it’s not too late to change.

fashion from nature

fashion from nature  fashion from nature

Fashioned from Nature exhibition at The V & A museum


It is time to face the truth: the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. This is not fake news, it is a fact.

Confession 1: I am guilty of polluting the environment, and I have been doing it for decades without being fully aware of it. I think most of us have. Yet we cannot go on ignoring the consequences of our unintentional actions.

Confession 2: I have always loved fashion, and I even worked in the industry briefly in my 20s. I have bought countless of clothing and accessories at sales without wearing them, and I ended up selling most of my stuff on ebay or donating them to Oxfam.

fashion from nature symposium

fashion from nature

Fashioned from Nature: Designing a Sustainable Future conference at The V & A museum


Last year, I visited the Fashion from nature exhibition at The V & A museum and attended the Fashioned from Nature: Designing a Sustainable Future conference that accompanied the exhibition. Then back in Jan, I visited the Future Fabrics Expo orgainsed by the non-profit organisation, The Sustainable Angle. I figured that in order to be a better consumer/designer/retailer, I’d better educate myself first.

Over the last few years, I made a conscious decision to change the way I consume, and I went about it in several ways:

I unsubscribed myself from newsletters sent by most fashion companies, and I rarely go out to shop for clothing unless it is essential.

If I see fashion items I like in the shops or online, I would not buy immediately. I would wait a few weeks and if I love it THAT much, then I would check again to see if it is still available. Most of the time, the item would either be sold out or I have completely forgotten about it.

I always check the fabrics and materials. If you think cotton is good, think again. Cotton production actually requires huge quantities of land, water, fertilisers and pesticides, and has a negative impact on the environment. Organic cotton is a more eco-friendly option.

After I started to learn about natural dyeing, I became more aware of the negative impact that synthetic dyes have on the environment. Although natural dyed items requires a lot of water and are more expensive to produce, they are much preferable to the synthetic ones.

Go vintage… I rummaged around my wardrobe and found many hardly-worn items bought years ago that still look good today. Mixing old with new is what I like to do these days.

Mend or upcycle your clothing – I think it can be fun and creative. I have already put a pile of old cotton t-shirts aside to be dyed naturally. I can’t wait to redesign them!

Sell unwanted clothing and accessories online – I have been doing it for years and have sold many items that I no longer wear on ebay and other websites. If the item has sat in the wardrobe untouched for over 2 years, then it’s time to review it.

Buy good quality and timeless pieces that would not look outdated in 10 or even 20 years’ time. Luckily, I have never really been into fast fashion, so I have items from 10 to 15 years ago that I can still wear without cringing about them.

Buy from sustainable fashion brands that actually care about the environment and workers.

Last but not least – simply buy less.


future fabric expo

future fabric expo 19

future fabric expo 19

future fabric expo 19

future fabric expo 19


In the last few years, there are many interesting sustainable fashion brands that offer consumers alternative options, and even the big fast fashion brands are making changes or introducing new eco lines. Aside from pioneers like Stella McCartney, People Tree, Komodo and Patagonia, there are others like Bethany Williams, Aiayu, Ecoalf, Beaumont Organic, Thought, Armedangels, Lowie, Bibico, PIC style, Vildnis, EKO, G-Star Raw, King of Indigo, Lemuel MC and Veja… to name a few.


Bethany williams  aiayu

future fabric expo 19


You can also learn more about the issues and secrets of the fashion world through the following documentaries:

The true cost directed by Andrew Morgan.

Riverblue directed by David McIlvride and Roger Williams.

Dirty white gold directed by Lee Borromeo.

China Blue, Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town trilogy and Bitter seeds are part of the Globalization trilogy directed by Micha Peled

The Machinists directed by Hannan Majid and Richard York

Machines directed by Rahul Jain

The next black on the future of fashion (free to watch)

Alex James: Slowing Down Fast Fashion

Stacey Dooley Investigates Fashions Dirty Secrets


It is never to late to change our buying habits, and if we all become more aware of what and how we consume, it will inevitably bring about changes and have a more positive impact on our planet.