By  on August 21, 2007

A search for the word denim on Amazon.com yields more than 26,000 books on the subject and most are either do-it-yourself manuals on how to style your own jeans or chronicles of the fabric's American roots. But a new tome due out in December seeks to give consumers a different view of the impact the world's most popular fabric has on our daily lives.

"Fugitive Denim," by journalist Rachel Louise Snyder, examines the life cycle of denim pants, taking readers from the cotton fields of Azerbaijan to U.S. store shelves. Snyder weaves in history lessons on everything from cotton harvesters to the improbable discovery of indigo dye. The subtitle, "A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade," lends the book to comparison with Pietra Rivoli's "The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy," which was published in 2005. In fact, Snyder said Rivoli's book came out within days of having signed her contract with publisher W.W. Norton & Co. However, Snyder said that, unlike Rivoli, she is not an economist and her goal was to simplify the dizzying process of global garment manufacturing by putting the focus on those involved. Rivoli has even written a blurb for the book jacket.

"For me, it was all about the people and the narrative," Snyder said. "I just stayed focused on the people. I think these books balance each other out pretty well, they fill in the blanks for each other."

Snyder's introduction to the textile industry came after moving to Cambodia, which was beginning to receive trade incentives to establish a sweatshop-free garment industry. In 2005, she started working on stories about the country's textile and garment industry that have aired on "This American Life" radio show and been published on Salon.com. She picked denim as the subject for her first book because of its symbolic power.

"Fundamentally, denim has a cool factor and it lends itself a little bit to people talking about it in literary terms," Snyder said. "It had this symbolic weight that I wanted, but it also captured globalization."

In the book, Snyder writes, "No other fabric has held the symbolic fortitude of denim — the rebellion, the antiestablishment rhetoric, the edginess — and no other article of clothing than jeans has been the focus of more literature."

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