Monday, November 04, 2019

Fashionopolis

I read an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas. If I were a better advance reader, I would time this to come out the week of publication, around September 3, 2019.  But, I wrote it in July, when I read the book, and then set it aside due to anger.  In November, I decided to finish it up and post my thoughts.

This is not an expose about huge Fast Fashion chains that serve the mass market.  Lucy Siegle of the Guardian does an excellent job covering that beat.

Ms Thomas covers the business of fashion and she has fantastic industry access.  I read and blogged about her earlier book, Deluxe, which covers the luxury end of the market. This time, she writes about the Price of Furious Fashion.  Her publisher categorizes the book under: Business, Design, Technology.

It's a good survey of the history of fashion production and the current toll that it takes.  However, the book shines when Thomas takes deep dives with makers that show how to make clothing with smaller environmental footprints.

For instance, I have made my skepticism about organic cotton known.  But, I learned that naturally-colored Foxfibre is also naturally insect-resistant.  The Tannins that give the cotton color, are bitter; insects don't like to eat them.

I don't like the reductive way that Thomas segments the market into organic and "all the rest."  She covers the business of fashion, but she's not a scientist nor was there any evidence in the book that she spent time interviewing scientists.

For instance, Stella McCartney's Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) showed that virgin cashmere had roughly one hundred times the environmental impact of virgin wool (page 167).  Therefore, Stella McCartney does not use virgin cashmere in her collections.

How do you put a number on the destruction of an irreplaceable ecosystem I wrote about in The planetary cost of cashmere? Of the extinction of snow leopards in More bad news about cashmere.

McCartney hired a sustainability and ethical trade chief, Claire Bergkamp.  Bergkamp, in turn, hired the accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, to audit her business (EP&L.) Accountants do what they do-- place numerical values on stuff.  At the end of the day, the numbers contain the biases of the makers of the model.

The numbers are maddeningly opaque and McCartney, Bergkamp and Thomas felt any need to look under the hood to find how those numbers are derived.  To a scientist, that's very disappointing.

On page 169, we learn that McCartney's EP&L determines that regenerated or 'reclaimed' cashmere is 92% less damaging to the environment than virgin cashmere.  She calls it postmanufacturing waste.  (I call it preconsumer waste and use it for more than half my sewing.)

This allows Bergkamp to throw around numbers like "though cashmere only made up 0.13% of [Stella McCartney's] overall raw material usage in 2015, it accounted for 25% of the company's total environmental impact; after adopting the use of regenerated cashmere in 2016, the impact dropped to 2 percent."

"Luxury fashion should use organic cotton--I don't think there is any excuse not to," said Bergkamp.

You get the idea.  Thomas takes so many claims at face value, particularly regarding natural vs. synthetic dyes and vegan vs. animal materials.

The book is a good survey on what people are trying, particularly at the luxury end of the market. Don't believe any of the scientific claims.  There is no guarantee that nonfiction books were fact-checked.  How do you fact-check a closely-held proprietary EP&L system anyway?

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