At the Fashinnovation virtual forum held Thursday, journalist and author Dana Thomas detailed the grim truths behind fashion — but not without offering a vision of hope.
Thomas is the author of “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes,” “Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano” and the New York Times bestseller “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.”
“The idea is that the world is in fact a Fashionopolis — a place where everywhere you turn fashion is somehow happening, it could be a farmer growing cotton or a seamstress sewing in a couture atelier or a model on a runway or a sales clerk ringing up the clothes you want to buy. One out of six people somehow work in the fashion industry, making it the most labor intensive industry out there — more than agriculture, more than defense. But the fashion industry is also extremely damaging to the planet and to humanity, and it has been since Day One,” began Thomas.
Referencing the onset of the Industrial Revolution, which marked the movement from handmade to machine-made — Thomas called it “a hell that still plagues the industry today.” She likened the injustices that arose around industrialization as fodder for Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” and the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed at least 1,132 people in 2013.
For many in the industry, the latter tragedy marked their journey into sustainable fashion advocacy.
Yet fashion is still a “hell” for countless others today, she contended. Thomas spouted off the dirty facts related to water pollution, worker livelihood, emissions, microplastics and textile waste. Only 2 percent of fashion workers earn a living wage, according to estimates by the Fair Fashion Center of NYC, while the World Bank estimates that fashion is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all water pollution annually.
“It all sounds terribly grim, I know — but that’s where innovation in fashion or ‘fashinnovation’ comes into play,” Thomas continued. “Through the herculean efforts of brave advocates, creators, investors and retailers and the unfeigned demands of the rising generation of conscientious consumers, the apparel system is being forced to veer towards a more principled value system.”
Thomas credits the visionaries and technological advances like that of biotech company Bolt Threads (lab-grown silk and mycelium) and Jeanologia system (cutting energy consumption by 33 percent, chemicals by 67 percent or water usage by 71 percent) for denim that is changing how apparel is made today. Pointing to the work of veterans like Stacy Flynn, founder of Evrnu — a textile innovation that uses 98 percent less water than virgin cotton — and Cyndi Rhoades, founder of worn-again technologies, a patented recycling process that separates and decontaminates polyester and cotton, Thomas restated how circular is the future and those innovations are a proof-case that “sustainable practices are better for the bottom line.”
Recounting the readings of Aristotle and Plato, Thomas said how “an ideal polis [city] should embody four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation and justice — and if all come together harmoniously, the polis will obtain perfect equality.”
Speaking of the mentioned entrepreneurs, Thomas said: “Their goals support those four cardinal virtues….We must all do what we can to support those efforts, as consumers, as investors, as cheerleaders because honestly don’t we all want to live in a just world?”
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