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Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes

Dana Thomas
Penguin Press
318 pp.
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How did your blue jeans come into existence? Perhaps they are one of the 6 billion pairs produced annually that are made with a depleting store of natural cotton, dyed with a synthetic indigo that has tainted rivers and workers’ hands an unnatural blue, and distressed by workers denied basic human rights. Or perhaps they are a bit too tight, and in the interest of ridding yourself of items that do not bring you joy, you—like millions of others—throw them away, where they are destined to persist in landfills.

The sobering truth is that very few of us know how our clothes are created, with what materials, and under what conditions. Likewise, few of us fully comprehend the enormous impact that fashion excess is having on our planet and on our society. Dana Thomas’s Fashionopolis takes readers through the dark history of the clothing industry, offering a detailed accounting of exactly what goes into the production of the 80 billion garments that are produced, purchased, discarded, and repurchased each year.

The first part of the book reveals the history, economics, policies, and science behind so-called “fast fashion”—the mass production of trendy clothing at breakneck speed—and details the price (both human and environmental) of this growing phenomenon. Here, Thomas provides sobering evidence that we are on an unsustainable path.

Requiring 5000 gallons of water and some of the World Health Organization’s most hazardous and polluting pesticides, your blue jeans, for example, cost more than their price tag might indicate. After tracing the path of denim production from the loom to the elaborate and environmentally destructive dyeing and finishing processes, Thomas discusses the history of trade agreements, revealing how most clothing purchased today in the United States is produced internationally under unsafe conditions.

The second part of the book takes the reader through a range of cutting edge, science-based solutions for a more sustainable fashion future. Here, Thomas introduces the reader to natural dyes and new engineered materials that are less harmful to the world’s natural resources and discusses alternative economic models, including thrifting, rent-to-wear, purchasing on demand, and zero-waste circularity solutions.

The book ends with a whirlwind tour through diverse technologies such as chemical material engineering and 3D printing, hinting at how they could change the fashion world and create a more sustainable path to having both a stylish pair of jeans and a thriving world in which to enjoy them. In the end, however, it is ultimately our collective responsibility—as textile makers, fashion designers, production facility managers, and consumers—to rein in the garment industry’s negative impact on the world.

About the author

The reviewer is at Nation of Makers, Silver Spring, MD 20918, USA.