The fashion industry is “carpet bombing” the environment, disempowering women and has culture on corporate lock down. So says Tansy E. Hoskins, author of Stitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Books of Fashion. We ask her to explain herself.
Why did you write this book?
I wrote Stitched Up because I was looking for answers and couldn’t find them anywhere. I wanted to create a book that dealt with all the issues I was concerned about – from workers rights and the environment to racism and cultural appropriation.
How big are the fashion monopolies?
The fashion industry is ruled by gigantic monopolies owned by some of the richest people on the planet. For example, owner of H&M, Stefan Persson, has a fortune of approximately $26 billion, and Bernard Arnault, owner of luxury conglomerate LVMH, is worth approximately $41 billion. The fashion media is similarly monopolised with a handful of brands owning most magazines and even blogs. Whilst the industry pretends to be all about freedom of expression and individuality, actually we are experiencing culture on corporate lockdown.
How are garment workers fighting back?
The garment industry is constantly on the boil at the moment. The past month has seen dramatic protests by garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Haiti with strikes, rioting and factories set on fire. Global Trade Unions are working to win decent standards for garment workers for example with the Bangladesh Health and Safety Accord, and solidarity movements across the world are highlighting abuses of workers, animals and the environment.
What damage is fashion doing by allowing the cult of thinness to spread?
Models employed by the fashion industry have a body type shared by just 5 per cent of women in the US. If you are not born with that body type then there is nothing that you can do to achieve it. Yet the industry promotes a fake body ideal as something achievable. This is deeply dis-empowering. It leaves women feeling inadequate and spending large amounts of their time trying to alter their appearance. Women (and men) are denied happiness by constantly being told there is something wrong with them.
How environmentally damaging is the fashion industry?
In terms of environmental destruction, the fashion industry is carpet bombing our planet. One study showed that the Chinese textile industry is the third worst water-polluter out of the country’s 39 industries. Fashion is worse than other industries because it is a deregulated, subcontracted, trend-based industry that relies on selling billions of short-life units every season at a maximum profit. It sees natural resources like water as ‘free’ for it to use to maximise its profits, whereas the destruction of these crucial resources will be paid for at a terrifying price.
Why do you believe there are no ethical clothes for sale?
Under capitalism there are no clothes made without the exploitation of people and resources. People need to stop looking for individual solutions to this crisis – like looking for that one ‘perfect’ brand of clothing. Instead this issue needs to be tackled systemically. People are sometimes disappointed that I don’t recommend any brands but what is the point of making yourself feel good about your shopping choices when people and planet are still enslaved? Temporary disappointment is a small price to pay for taking part in the biggest challenge ever faced by humanity – the overthrow of capitalism.
Why do you think fashion would be different without capitalism?
I go into a lot of ideas for fairness, change and new aesthetics in the final chapter of Stitched Up – ‘Revolutionising Fashion’. One idea to think about however is what factories would look like if there were no owners or bosses. The 1,134 people who died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh were forced under threat to work in that factory that they knew was unsafe. Without capitalism, the owner of Rana Plaza would haven been working in the factory like everyone else and it would also have been his life at risk from criminal practices.
Socially organised production would also end over-production because no one, not reliant on wages, is going to vote to work 15 hour days seven days a week on an assembly line to produce a 20 billion pieces of clothing. The only people that need such vast quantities of clothing are the people that sell them at a profit – under collective ownership their role would have ceased.