For thirty years, Dana Thomas has covered the fashion and apparel industry for the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, and has written three books about fashion and its impacts. Dana talked to TRAID about her most recent book ‘Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes’ which explores how the fashion industry harms humanity and the planet, and what we can do slow the damage.
TRAID: Your book talks about doing ‘better’ fashion not ‘faster’ fashion. What does this look like?
Dana Thomas: Well, first of all, it means less volume. Massively less. Today, most major fashion brands’ business models are based on moving as much product as possible. Fast drops on floors. Pulling us into stores more often. Turning out collections, each radically different than the previous ones, making us feel like what we have is obsolete. Getting us to fork out as much money as possible. Success is measured on number of sales. On quantity, not quality. And mind you: it is not only fast fashion brands who based their business on this model. Luxury brands follow it, too.
Better fashion is not based on the sheer number of clothes sold. It’s about quality, not quantity – both on the production and sales side, and on the consumer side. Instead of buying ten T-shirts for $10 apiece that are cheap quality and last six months, or a year, it’s about making the best possible product. And us buying the best quality product. Today, clothes prices are far too low compared to everything else in our budget, and those low prices are because everyone along the supply chain is squeezed to the lowest wage possible. If a t-shirt cost $10, that means the person who made it was paid 10 cents. If it costs $60, they were paid 60 cents, which doesn’t seem like a lot either, but it is six times more, and would equal a living wage—meaning they can afford to house, clothe and feed their families. And we’d have less clothes thrown away, stuffing our landfills. Buying less, buying better is a win-win for everyone.
TRAID: How might our relationship with clothes change if we dressed as citizens rather than as consumers?
Dana Thomas: I think we would know more about our clothes: how they were made, where they were made, what they were made of, and who made them. We would interact with them, have a conversation with them, respect them, cherish them. We wouldn’t be as careless as we are today with clothes. Brands are reluctant to change its fast fashion model because they profit hugely from it.
TRAID: With this in mind, how do you think the industry’s exploitative practices can be curbed?
Dana Thomas: By informing consumers – thus why I wrote the book. It’s kind of hard to keep supporting these brands once you know the destruction the high-volume business model causes—to fellow humans as well as the planet. Coronavirus and self-isolation are going to have a major impact, as well. Shopping like crazy will seem so inconsequential after all this. I think fast will be replaced by slow in all corners of life. At least I hope so.
TRAID: Do you see a time – in our life times – when the fast fashion model has become unacceptable, even outlawed?
I don’t think the fast fashion model will ever be outlawed. But I do think that we will have more choice. Like fast-food and the rise of the organic food movement. Twenty years ago, it was hard to find farmers’ markets and organic was expensive. Now we have markets all over the place, and farm-to-table restaurants, and even organic takeout. I hope that 20 years ago, we can say the same about fashion. Today, organic cotton makes up 1 percent of all cotton produced. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were 20, 30 percent? Even half? Same with natural indigo: now it’s 1 percent. I’d like to see that at 50 percent. Little by little, sustainable, responsible, conscious fashion’s piece of the pie will get bigger, and that will mean less unsustainable fashion out there, and less damage to humankind and Mother Earth.
TRAID: Can you leave us with three tips we can all take to create a more sustainable wardrobe?
- Always look at the label. If you can by organic cotton, sustainable wool (like Merino wool), recycled cashmere, or cruelty-free silk, do. See if the rayon is certified. And most important: Avoid polyester at all costs.
- Wash your clothes less, and when you do, wash with with cold water on the short cycle. They will still get clean, and you will use less water, less energy, release less microfibers into the water system, and your clothes will have a longer life.
- Repair, rewear and resell. Never throw clothes in the trash, if you can avoid it. If it’s stained, over-dye it. Do a cool embroidery over the moth hole. Even if you use your old shirt or pajamas in a rag to polish the silver, you have giving that cloth a longer life , and didn’t use paper towels. Aim for less waste.
Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas is published by Penguin Press in the United States and Head of Zeus in the United Kingdom. The New York Times deemed Fashionopolis: “Fascinating…will engage not only the fashion set but also those interested in economics, human rights and climate policy,” and the New Yorker said it is “a glimpse into how consumerism, slowed to a less ferocious pace, might be reconciled with sustainability.” Dana is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Gods and Kings and The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.