Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas
General Thoughts: I did not want to put this book down. I listened to it on audiobook and played it all day. The narration is great and read by the author, which is a nice personal touch. As I mentioned before in my Over-Dressed review, I've always had an interest in fashion, but I've really turned my focus towards learning about its impact and how to make it more sustainable. This book is the perfect mix of informational overview and fascinating read. The writing is fresh, crisp, and efficient. There are many high profile interviews conducted with people like Stella McCartney and other leaders of sustainable fashion brands or companies that hope to aid that process. You can tell that Thomas did her research, and she presents it in a way that feels both warm and personal while also staying professional and clearly informative.
The book opens with an overview on the current pitfalls of the fashion industry. It emphasized a lot of the same issues that were the primary focus of Over-Dressed, though it was a much more streamlined version. She highlighted the same facts with a different angle that I enjoyed. The facts she presented made me want to take notes as I listened. I'll share some of the more striking discoveries later.
While she outlines how we got here and the problems we face quite thoroughly, that's not where the book dwells. What I liked most is that it was very focused on being solution based. I finished the book feeling empowered and excited by the possibilities. She talks to designers committed to sustainability, software designers who are making it possible to 3D print clothes or have a robot manufacture clothes only as they're ordered, scientists who are working to grow leather and material in a lab, online consignment retailers, and fashion rental company leaders. These in-depth interviews don't shy away from talking about the challenges all of these companies face as most are still in their infancy, but it did offer a real sense of hope. We're making serious strides towards a sustainable world and fashion culture. There are so many different views and opinions on how we go about making positive change it in the details that it feels like at least one approach is bound to work. It inspired me. I was also really happy to hear about how this younger generation of consumers is really becoming more aware and demanding their brands be ethical and sustainable. Parents are starting to teach their young children about the importance of their choices in saving the planet. Educating everyone, at all ages, is the most important step we can take towards keeping the planet alive.
Some Food For Thought:
I took a ton of notes while reading this, so I can't get to all the points I wanted to, but here are a few things that stood out to me.
- Fast Fashion Feeds on our FOMO (Instagram isn't helping things): I think we all could guess that this comes into play, but it's unbelievable what the average clothing consumption is when it's laid out as statistics. Since Instagram and the launch of things like #OOTD, people have been purchasing more than ever so that they can show off a brand new outfit every single day. The key demographic, for fast fashion is the 18-24 year old demographic. In that group, 13% order once a week and 1/3 buy every two weeks. That doesn't mean that they're keeping them. A new trend of people buying, taking pictures in outfits, and returning them is creating a huge amount of backwash for brands.
- Luckily, there are more sustainable options that don't force us to change how we consume! The growing affordability of rental options like Rent The Runway are making it possible to constantly have a brand new wardrobe while keeping fashion circular and reducing the volume of our clothing. Also, this is a great way to interact with designer trends affordably. Instead of buying a knock-off version, it's now possible to have those amazing items for a time, and it helps support the designers who put in the time to craft the item. Don't let new designers get run out of the industry because fast fashion has taken too many of their ideas.
- There's also another proposed avenue. While not nearly as cheap as H&M, but still affordable, Reformation believes that fast fashion doesn't have to be unethical or unsustainable. By creating limited runs and working closely with the people who manufacture the lines, Reformation is able to minimize its impact. They make it a point to create quality garmets and be transparent about what the item's impact is on their website. Their goal is to improve upon the way we shop without forcing the consumer to drastically alter their habits. They also want to offer clothes that will last and create an emotional connection. (I briefly got on their website to check it out, and they sell some truly beautiful clothes).
- I Learned Some Scary Things About Jeans: I'm personally not a devout jeans wearer. I own one pair now. I do, however, tend to gravitate towards ripped and light wash jeans. Now I'll be thinking twice about that. For all new jeans, 99% are made with synthetic indigo which is full of all kinds of terrifying chemicals with names that you'll recognize as poisons. Then there's the stone-washing and wearing process. It wastes and pollutes far too much water in places like Vietnam. There are environmentally friendly ways to execute the look, but it's much less common. The process of pre-ripping exposes workers to harmful denim fibers. These processes also means that jeans wear out in months instead of years. While it's nice to instantly have soft jeans, I think I'll be looking for new pairs at vintage stores. I'd never thought about what the impact of denim might be.
- The Internet Helps a Lot: The internet allows fashion brands to become direct to consumer businesses which opens up who can create a brand. Designers are no longer boxed in by the conventional tastes of department store buyers or limited to making products that could translate nationally or internationally. This has lead to tons of brands popping up, particularly in the South, that create a very limited run of items with locally sourced material and a group of hand sewers. While the process is expensive, they can be sold at a reasonable price because they don't need a retail mark up. And when they're not so affordable they create direct competition for designer brands that follow less artisanal processes. This system also allows more efficiency. Some brands are now only producing items that they have confirmed orders for to eliminate the waste of unsold clothes. It seems the retail world is moving away from department stores and towards showrooms with a few samples to try on before ordering online. McNeil even suggested the department store will disappear in the next 3-5 years.
- The Big Changes Will Have to Come From Within the High Fashion Community: This is Stella McCartney's view, and she's proven successful. When she took over as creative director at Chloe, she made rules against fur and leather, and she got her fair share of pushback. When she moved on to create her own label, she expanded this mission to removing carcinogenic PVC and hired an environmental director to make sure they would continually improve. While she prioritizes making choices that will avoid impact, she tries to offset the damage that is currently unavoidable by doing things like contributing to river clean up. Her success has proven this to be a profitable venture, and her public discussions of her work has pressured many designer brands around her to make similar moves. She wants people to focus on buying fewer, higher quality pieces. Her passion for the cause is inspiring, and I particularly liked this quote, “The fashion industry is so old school it’s rediculous. When are we going to wake up. When are we going to be accountable?”
- This is probably also a good place to note that you shouldn't take a brand's word for it when they talk about their environmental work. It's become a marketing ploy as they've recognized people's new concerns. Just like Made In America doesn't guarantee it wasn't made in a sweatshop, a company's eco policy can mean a lot of different things in practicality.
- London is an Exciting Hub: Almost all of the innovators that Thomas talked to were British designers or London based companies. This isn't a coincidence, and it was super interesting to hear about the contrast between London's outlook as opposed to other fashion hubs.
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