How fast fashion is destroying the planet (Published 2019) (2023)


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How fast fashion is destroying the planet (Published 2019) (1)

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The price of fast fashion and the future of clothing
By DanaThomas

There's this old adage usually attributed to Yves Saint Laurent: "Fashion passes, style is eternal."

That should no longer be true in the truest sense of the word, especially when it comes to fast fashion. Fast-fashion brands may not design their clothes to last (and they don't), but as artifacts of a particularly consumerist era, they could become an important part of the fossil record.

More than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics derived from fossil fuels. So when our clothes end up in a landfill (about 85 percent of clothing waste in the United States goes to landfills or is incinerated), it doesn't rot.

Neither do the synthetic microfibers that end up in the ocean, freshwater and elsewhere, including the deepest parts of the oceans and the highest glacial peaks. Future archaeologists could look at landfills inherited from nature and uncover evidence of Zara.


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And it's Zara and other brands that have helped raise flags in the far corners of the planet. In “Fashionopolis”, Dana Thomas, an experienced style writer, convincingly connects our fast fashion wardrobes to global economic and climate patterns and crises, and roots the current state of the fashion biosphere as a whole – production methods, labor practices and environmental impacts – in the history of the apparel industry .

Her narrative is divided into three manageable sections. The first focuses on today's global fast fashion and mainstream fashion industry and how it became so enormous, insatiable and so seemingly unstoppable. It contains a fascinating account of how NAFTA enabled the international success of fast fashion. The second presents alternative, even contrasting, approaches to making clothes that Thomas calls “slow fashion”: locally grown materials, often domestically manufactured or sourced on a relatively small scale, like farmer-entrepreneur Sarah Bellos' American-grown indigo. Finally, she meets people who are trying to completely reform the system, from the materials we use to the way clothes are made and the way we shop.

Throughout, Thomas reminds us that the textile industry has always been one of the darkest corners of the world economy. Textiles, the defining product of the industrial revolution, were crucial to the development of our globalized capitalist system and its abuse today has a long history. Slave labor in the American South supplied factories both in England, where they were notorious for child labor and other horrors, and in the United States, where factory fires claimed the lives of new immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. Thomas reports that in Los Angeles today there are immigrant workers who are victims of wage theft and exploitation, not to mention Bangladeshi, Chinese, Vietnamese and other workers who face working conditions that are grim at best and inhumane at worst. Fashion is an industry dependent on and keeping the labor of the powerless and speechless.

In one of the most powerful parts of the book, Thomas recounts the tragedy of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, told through the harrowing experiences of two survivors. The blast killed 1,100 people and injured another 2,500. And this was not an isolated case: "Between 2006 and 2012, more than 500 garment workers in Bangladesh died in factory fires." And she notes that none of this news -- the Rana Plaza disaster was widely publicized -- diminished Americans' appetite for cheap clothes. Indeed, writes Thomas, that same year Americans "spent $340 billion on fashion," and "much of it was produced in Bangladesh, some by Rana Plaza workers in the days before the collapse."

Not the whole book is so pessimistic: there's plenty of zing and glamor for fashion lovers to get excited about. Thomas demonstrates her skills as a culture and style reporter as she visits the visionaries trying to reshape the industry, if not from whole fabrics, then perhaps from lab-grown or recycled fibers. She evokes a pastoral idyll, for example, in her portrayal of designer Natalie Chanin and her company, Alabama Chanin, a line of cotton apparel made almost entirely in Florence, Alabama, once the "Cotton T-Shirt Capital of the World." . Thomas says these garments are both eco-friendly and humane, although the 30-person company with sales of just over $3 million last year can't replace mass production when it comes to clothing seven billion people .


(Video) Fact Check | How Fashion Is Destroying Our Planet

Among the delights of the book are Thomas's sketches of their individual subjects. I can't get her description of a woman as "peach-and-cream-pretty" out of my head; I know exactly what she looks like. The author also has a gift for bringing luxury to life: she evokes Moda Operandi's London showroom so evocatively that I felt drawn in.

In the last paragraph, Thomas marvels at the ingenuity of those who try to "disrupt" fashion. She makes a strong case for the importance of science applied to the frivolities of fashion (which is often seen as such), especially if we are to move away from the inartistic excesses of mass production.

Stella McCartney gets a disproportionate amount of attention here, and with good reason. McCartney has long been committed to sustainable practices, in her own company and in those of others. As chief designer at Chloé in the late 1990s, she declined to include leather or fur in her collections, which many executives at the time considered a death wish (some still do). She's made it work and has expanded these practices in her eponymous company, such as using only "reclaimed" cashmere and refusing to use polyvinyl chloride or untraceable rayon.

However, the book falls short when it comes to contextualizing this single industry from a broader climate perspective. Some statistics are exaggerated: Livestock are not responsible for "at least half of all global greenhouse gas emissions," but rather about 15 percent of them; Fashion production alone still uses water at a rate that, if sustained, “will exceed global supply by 40 percent by 2030” (not even all of the world's water needs will necessarily do so). And many discussions about new materials and production processes raise further questions. What are the differences between organic, conventional and "Better Cotton"? (Organic cotton is regularly touted as a sustainable alternative, even though it currently accounts for only about 0.4 percent of the cotton market, making it almost impossible for companies to rely on it now or in the near future.) Another: Power landfill non-synthetic clothes matter? Thomas doesn't say it, but actually does because it contributes to the global emission of methane, a potent heat storage gas.

There is a lot of reliance here on the idea of ​​a “circular system – or closed loop system – in which products are continuously recycled, reborn and reused. Ideally, nothing should go to waste.” But the practical considerations—cost, efficiency, resource constraints—are often overlooked. Ultimately, Thomas finds clothing rental to be the most sustainable model, and that feels more realistic than the futuristic materials she details. I ended up wondering, if the fashion industry is so damaging and none of these developments alone will solve the problem, shouldn't governments regulate production beyond imposing stricter pollution standards?

That might be a question for another book; It is not the aim of Fashionopolis to provide all the answers. Thomas has managed to draw attention to the big issues in the $2.4 trillion-a-year industry, in a way that speaks not only to the fashion world, but also to those who care about business, human rights and climate policy interested. Her portraits of characters transforming a field that hasn't changed all that much in the past century or more sound both like messages from the future and like nostalgic musings of life in a smaller, simpler world. If we can combine them, this book suggests, the envisioned “Fashionopolis” could transform from an urban nightmare into a glowing hilltop city.


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