Dana Thomas Uncovers the Global Impact of the Making of the Clothes We Wear

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In writing her new book, FASHIONOPOLIS: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, Penguin Press author Dana Thomas delved into how the apparel trade has exploited labor, the environment, and intellectual property, with the simultaneous unfurling of fast fashion, globalization, and the tech revolution. She also traveled the world to discover the visionary designers and companies who are propelling the industry toward a more positive future by reclaiming traditional craft and launching cutting-edge sustainable technologies to produce better fashion.

In this Behind the Pages interview, Ms. Thomas talks about what led her to launch an investigation into the damage wrought by the colossal clothing industry and the grassroots, high-tech, international movement fighting to reform it. She also offers practical takeaway that can we incorporate into our day-to-day lives. Take a Green Mindful Moment and read on.

What inspired you to write FASHIONOPOLIS and what are some of the most important findings you discovered that impact our global climate patterns?

I was horrified by the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, and could see that the supply chain—not only for apparel, but for most everything—in our globalized world today is horribly destructive to both Mother Nature and humankind. Something has to change, and I thought that writing this call-to-arms might help consumers see that and say, “Enough is enough.”

One of the most alarming facts I discovered is that 60 percent of clothes contain polyester, and polyester is essentially plastic—it’s petroleum-based, it doesn’t biodegrade, and when washed, it releases microfibers into the water. We thought fleece was great because it took recycled plastic bottles and turned them into fabric, but what we didn’t realize is that fleece sheds in the washing machine. The microfibers enter our streams, rivers, and oceans, are ingested by fish, and we eat the fish. Microfibers have been found in Arctic ice. A few weeks ago, I read that traces have been found in Rocky Mountain rain. There is a great London-based company called Worn Again that recycles polyester, which is fantastic because then we won’t have to keep pumping oil out of the ground to make it. But, at some point, we will have to wean ourselves off polyester. It is simply too damaging to keep using.

How are new sustainable technologies able to reverse some of the most damaging harm to our environment caused by “furious fashion?”

I think the lab-grown materials—such as Modern Meadow’s leather-like bio-fabricated material, and Bolt Threads’ spider silk—are promising. By cultivating these materials in laboratories, grown to shape and size, we are drastically reducing the extremely impactful industrial farming business, as well as waste. I’d like organic cotton and natural indigo to become mainstream, but I fear the global chemical companies, which are behind GMO cotton and synthetic indigo, will do what they can to impede that to protect their interests, rather than embrace these new (actually old) technologies and join the pro-environment movement. Why? Because their executives and shareholders believe clean, green business costs more—though brands like Stella McCartney have proven otherwise. I think circularity will take hold—that cotton, polyester, nylon and other materials will be regenerated in a nonstop loop. Resale and rental will be a major part of the retail pie, and fast fashion brands will be on the wane, if not extinct—at least if they maintain their current business practices—that is, pushing consumption and economies of scale.

What do you hope resonates most strongly with readers of FASHIONOPOLIS and what practical takeaways can we incorporate into our day-to-day lives?

Don’t buy something you can’t see yourself wearing for a good, long while—the three-wearings-and-you’re-over-it has got to stop. If you grow out of it, or grow tired of it, resell or donate; don’t throw clothes in the trash. Ever. And consider rental—especially for special occasions.

Another thing, super simple, is wash our clothes less. And when you do wash them, wash them on shorter cycles, with cold water. Shorter cycles save water and electricity; cold water saves energy, too, since the water isn’t heated. There will be fewer microfibers in our water systems—hot water loosens them; longer spin cycles releases more. Clothes will last longer, because they aren’t beaten up so much—washing machines are hard on fabrics. And they’ll get just as clean in the short, cold cycle. Something as simple as that is already gigantic.

Posted: September 26, 2019