Monday, November 04, 2019


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 no 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?

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Car tires, a bigger threat than polyester blouses

I sound like a broken record, but the culprit is almost always cars.

Cars are a death cult. They cause most of our air and water pollution, green house gas emissions, and consume most of the land in the cities with their voracious appetite for parking spaces and road space.

In Heavy Metal in LA, I explained that the biggest source of heavy metal contamination in Los Angeles waters is cars.  Now we learn that cars are the biggest source of microplastics in the San Francisco Bay Area. The biggest likely source of microplastics in California coastal waters? Our car tires
Cars driving over Golden Gate Bridge photo from LA Times
Sewists can quit obsessing over polyester use.  The much bigger problem is all of our cars.
Rainfall washes more than 7 trillion pieces of microplastics, much of it tire particles left behind on streets, into San Francisco Bay each year — an amount 300 times greater than what comes from microfibers washing off polyester clothes, microbeads from beauty products and the many other plastics washing down our sinks and sewers.
I downloaded and read the SFEI report, Understanding Microplastic Levels, Pathways, and Transport in the San Francisco Bay Region.

The methodology section starts on page 30. They collected and sieved microparticles from storm runoff, sewage treatment plants and sediment.  Then they sieved again and again to separate out particles by size.

Particles were further sorted by color, shape and appearance.  Finally, the material composition of 7% of the microparticles were determined by Raman and FTIR spectroscopy.  Not all microparticles were plastics.  E.g. some were glass or organic materials.

Particles found in this study
The most astonishing finding was the abundance of black, rubbery fragments.
A total of 171 microparticles were classified as unknown potentially rubber, which represents 84% of black, rubbery fragments that were analyzed by spectroscopy, or 44% of all fragments analyzed (21% of all particles analyzed). Only one site, Rodeo Creek (a mostly rural site), had zero rubbery fragments.
The discussion explains why they are sure that the black rubbery fragments are tire wear.  They also summarize findings about the prevalence and abundance of tire wear in the environment by other researchers starting on page 55.

I suspect that the results would be the same if the expensive and laborious study was repeated in Los Angeles.

Don't feel bad if you wear polyester blouses or fleece jackets instead of exclusively natural fibers.  Just wash them in the coolest water that still gets them clean, air-dry them, and walk/bike/transit instead of driving.

Those are choices that really matter.

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Friday, November 01, 2019

Sea People

Bad Dad leads the {pages} non-fiction book club at {pages} a bookstore and we read Sea People by Christina Thompson two months ago.

Sea People is an absolute delight and you can read my review on Goodreads.
This book was written specifically for me.*

It tells the story of how the Lapita people, originally from the island of Taiwan (my two grandmothers,) sailed the vast Pacific ocean and settled an area that covers 25% of the earth's surface.

Even if you don't have Lapita grandmothers, read it for the detective story, natural science, history and anthropology. There is something for everyone.

It's written in an accessible and sympathetic style, with a well-annotated notes/bibliography section in the end for those who want to read deeper.

* IRL, I have a high affinity for nonlinear dynamics, climatology, winds and currents. A book that includes not just my grandmothers' history, but 'insertion points' into the Pacific, El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and paleoclimate could not be better designed for my interests.
Thompson writes with empathy and good humor, but you have to laugh at some of the whacky ideas white people have about people who aren't white.  Speaking of which, I ran across a couple of science stories about the people of Easter Island, which completely skewer Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel.

DiNapoli et al showed that the moai monuments on Easter Island are mostly markers for freshwater seeps.  The larger and more reliable the freshwater source, the larger the monument.
Moia picture from Smithsonian article credited to Adwo/Fotolia
That explains most of the moai.  Some of the inland ones were discovered to be very large time-release fertilizer stakes. Quarrying stone for Easter Island statues made soil more fertile for farming.

Researchers traditionally have assumed that builders of the island’s partially buried quarry statues had either planned to move them elsewhere on the island or abandoned them. Designs on the roughly 6.6-meter-tall quarry statues display similarities to those on the only other Rapa Nui statue displaying numerous carved images. That carved figure was previously found at a ceremonial site nearly 20 kilometers west of the quarry.

Although the quarry measures only about 800 to 1,000 meters across, the new soil data show that it was a “little productive gold mine” for farming, says archaeologist Christopher Stevenson of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, who did not participate in the study. Reeds growing in a lake at the base of the quarry would have provided additional phosphorus to the soil, he says.

“The area immediately to the east of the quarry was and is one of the most intensively settled parts of the island, and now that makes much more sense,” Stevenson says.