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In review: Fashionopolis

by Vaish Ramakrishnan
Over the last few months, I’ve been grappling with my buying behaviour when it comes to clothes. I picked up Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas last year to kickstart more critically questioning how and where I buy clothes from. Fast fashion and the consequences it entails is something we’ve been increasingly hearing about but rarely do we hear as much about the alternatives that exist. 

Fashionopolis is a book for anyone interested in clothes or understanding the current fashion landscape. It gives an expansive account into the human and environmental consequences of fast fashion and gives readers a peak into the stories of entrepreneurs and scientists who are trying to produce with less cruelty. Dana Thomas talks about the process of pre-washing and distressing blue jeans which can generate several gallons of toxic wastewater, and workers are forced to hand-sand these jeans to create the “weathered” look, in rooms filled with cotton dust. As a buyer, I feel ashamed to think of the number of times I’ve not thought twice about throwing out a pair of jeans.

She instead advocates for “slow fashion” – which she defines as a “growing movement of makers, designers, merchants, and manufacturers, who have significantly dialed back their financial ambitions, while making production cleaner and more efficient.” ⠀

What I think she struggles with however is how does it work for consumers who cannot actually afford “slow fashion.” The options Thomas delves into are primarily higher-end or resale items which can be prohibitively expensive. Another issue I had was with the book squarely laying the blame at the industry’s door. I would have also liked to understand what some of the bigger brands — Zara, H&M, Uniqlo and so on — are doing to reform their supply chains. 

Most of us are seeing their “sustainable” efforts but it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction. I didn’t come away from Fashionopolis much the wiser on some of these aspects. Regardless, this is an important read and one I’d recommend adding to your list if you’ve been trying to make sustainable choices or want to understand fast fashion and its consequences. 

As the holiday season dawns on us, it’s upon us to buy more consciously and educate ourselves on the systems and alternatives that exist.⠀

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