Book Review: Stitched Up, the Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion

stitchedupbook

You can’t have missed the media coverage marking the one year anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse. Some 3000 workers were inside the Rana Plaza, an 8 storey illegally constructed factory complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when it collapsed at around 9am on Wednesday 24th April 2013. The factories produced clothing for major Western fashion brands including Primark, Matalan, Bon Marche and Mango. 1,138 people died; a heart-breaking consequence of the West’s addiction to cheap, fast fashion.

This is just one, albeit horrific example of the dark side to fashion; an industry built on the image of glamour, wealth and beauty. A new book aims to draw all that’s bad about the fashion industry together into one hard-hitting, brutally honest volume. Stitched Up, the Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion was written by Tansy Hoskins, the writer, journalist and activist. Case-by-case Hoskins dissects the industry we all love to hate by investigating the plight of the garment workers, the insatiable want of consumers, and the manipulative nature of the media industry. This book surpassed my expectations. There are many books on ethical fashion out there, some more wishy-washy than others. Hoskins attempt is admirable and a credit to her top-notch investigative journalism skills alongside her genuine passion for the topic. If you liked Lucy Siegle’s To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World? you’ll devour Stitched Up much like I did.

“There is no difference between a knight and any other man except what he wears”

This apparent quote from Robin Hood is Hoskins choice of opener. I’m not sure I would have opted to quote folklore whilst arguing for a realist shift in thinking about a multi-billion pound industry but nevertheless Hood makes an important point. Clothing is the most visible way we have to express our identity, status and values. Fashion is a global industry that we all take part in and Hoskins’ book helps us to take a more critical stance on it.

Each chapter looks at a different issue, from the cotton farmers at the start of the supply chain to the models showing off the final product and all of the sizest, racist taunts surrounding them. She delves straight into the politics and doesn’t shy away from an academic treatment of the subject, in fact, she loves Karl Marx, whose rules of labour and capital are called upon in virtually every chapter. Her key message is that capitalism is the root cause of all that’s bad in the fashion industry and individual action alone cannot reform it. Instead, we need a complete transformation of society, a new way of living and working to foster equality and quash class hierarchies. This she discusses in the final two chapters ‘Reforming Fashion’ and ‘Revolutionising Fashion’.

My only problem with the book is this disregard for the individual. Hoskins does a great job of building up a picture of a rotten industry, built on exploitation and greed, but it leaves the reader feeling helpless. Her concluding suggestions for a revolution are, in her own words, a “distant possibility”. I like to dream with the best of them, but I can’t envision a non-capitalist future unless something really terrible happens and we revert back to subsistence living out of necessity – it certainly won’t be an idealistic utopian society.

At one point she says, “As disappointing as it may be to hear this, there are no ethical clothes for sale”. I disagree. She destroys the likes of TOMS, who she says turned “poverty into a marketing ploy” and disregards CSR and ethical sourcing attempts of high street retailers as little more than greenwash. She gives the impression that as consumers we can do nothing right, we have no power (so therefore we might as well just shop?!). But I think there are ethical retailers, People Tree for example, who work with small fair trade groups and sustainable materials, are they not intrinsically a good?

As I hinted at before, this is a book for educated readers. It’s well researched, as evidenced by the extensive notes section and bibliography. It’s not a coffee table fashion book; although it does has some wonderful illustrations inside. It’s a must-read for students studying fashion, media, business, human geography or retail, along with inquisitive souls with a desire to know more about what exactly they have in their wardrobe. If I could make it law for everybody to read this book, and others like it, I would, because it’s important, and real, and something we can all play a part in to create change. I think Hoskins has succeeded in setting out what she hoped to do.

You can buy Stitched Up, the Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion direct from Pluto Press for £13.50. Don’t go to Amazon!

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Recent Guest Posts

I’ve had a few guest posts published recently –

Giving UK Ethical Fashion the Celebrity Treatment – La Leaf

La Leaf is a Berlin-based ethical fashion site. I was approached by the lovely Sarah, co-founder and editor of the site, to write about an aspect of ethical fashion from my UK-based perspective. Drawing on my recent trip to Zandra’s Rhodes penthouse for the launch of her latest collaborative collection with People Tree, I wrote about the rise of the celebrity in eco-fashion and what we can learn from the food industry.

Crossing Disciplines – From Fashion Undergrad to Geography PhD – PhD2Published

PhD2Published was set up in 2010 by Charlotte Frost as a resource for helping early career researchers to get their first academic book published. It now provides all sorts of advice for PhD students and ECRs. I wrote this blog to share my experiences of moving into social science from a strong background in fashion.

PhD Publishing Strategies – Which Journal? – Geographypostgrads.com

Geographypostgrads.com is the University of Southampton Geography blog for our own postgrads to contribute too and which I edit. I wrote this post to explain my thoughts on academic publishing and the strategy I’m using to help myself move across to sociology.

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People Tree Launch New Youthful Range ‘Aimee’

Ethical fashion lovers will be excited to see People Tree’s new SS12 collections. As well as their Fairtrade mainline and collaborations with Zakee Shariff and Orla Kiely, People Tree is launching a new youthful line called ‘Aimee’. Aimee, meaning beloved, features a summery colour palette of blue and coral, deckchair inspired stripes and vintage lace. Using organic cotton jersey, 100% Fairtrade certified, Aimee has all of the pieces you will need to build the perfect summer wardrobe. Dresses are cute and short, with side pockets and ruffles, whilst separates include button up vests, oversized tees and high waisted skirts.

The Aimee range will be sold through People Tree, ASOS.com, New Look and independent boutiques, in a welcome move to make ethical fashion more widely available.

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Orla Keily for People Tree

Fashion Designer, Orla Keily, has designed a range of limited edition bags for ethical fashion retailer People Tree. The handmade bags featured Keily’s signature lattice flower print and environmentally friendly materials. They are available in a tote version (£35) and satchel style (£75) in two different colour patterns. There is a limited production run on these exclusive bags so if you want one you better hurry!

The designs fuse the practicality needed from a day bag with stylish design, hand painted in Bangladesh and made from 100% jute.Orla Keily, with her signature lattice flower print, fits in well with the People Tree aesthetic. Speaking to founder Safia Minney, Keily explains that she loves designing with natural textiles and she fully supports the work of People Tree, stressing the importance of knowing where clothes and products come from.

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Social Labelling Conference


Last week I went to an ethical fashion conference held at Northumbria University. It was focused on social labelling which is very relevent to my MPhil thesis question, ‘How to communicate the environmental and social impacts of producing a cotton t-shirt to the consumer at point of sale’. There were representatives there from FAIRTRADE, People Tree, Workers Rights Consortium and many more, but what was really interesting was to find PhD students studying such similiar topics to me! It becomes easy to think that I’m the only one doing research in my field, but that is of course not true, especially as it is such a current issue. Having said that, we were all approaching it in different ways.

I picked up on a lot of new information and will have to spend time going back through my literature review to add these details. What really struck me is the amount of work going on to help the conditions for workers globally, and the number of barriers that they face. I also realised that if I want to start my own label in the future, there is a lot of support out there to help me find an ethical way of manufacturing products. I’ll update the blog as I go through my notes and the conference papers.

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