This book is a joy and a tragedy to read. Dana Thomas takes us on a pretty shame-filled exploration of the industry underpinning contemporary fashion. The travesty that is today’s garment-making industry is one of those things that we just ambiently “know”, but Thomas takes that fairly common awareness and fills in the details with the human and environmental cost of cheap clothes. From the lives ruined and lost in the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, to modern slavery in LA’s garment-making district, to the environmental cost of a pair of synthetic indigo blue jeans — it becomes a bit painful to look at one’s closet after reading this book. I recall a similar experience after reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer — if not in wholesale behaviour change, at least a reconsideration of HOW I behave.
Thankfully, this book does quite a bit to paint a positive — if somewhat techno-optimism tinged — future image. Citing businesses like Econyl and Worn Again (amongst many other mostly women-owned businesses), she suggests that there is a better route for the rest of us — mostly consumers or fringe participants in these industries — to move towards more preferable ecological and humanitarian outcomes. Having read Cradle to Cradle ages ago, there was a lot that was familiar in this later part of the book, but also incredibly well contextualized by examples across a slower, more inclusive, and more circular fashion industry that I now believe is inevitable, however nascent it may seem right now.
If you’re on the fence, I’d recommend listening to Dana Thomas’ great interview on the Dressed podcast. It gives a good overview, and the show’s hosts are brilliant scholars and critics of fashion history themselves.