The real cost of fast fashion is on humans, animals and the environment

'Fashinopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion And the Future of Clothes' by Dana Thomas (Photo via Amazon.)

You wake up and scroll through your favorite social media platform — Snapchat, or Instagram, or whatever — and you see a pair of pants that you just fall in love with. Priced at less than $50, those pants lead you to a clothing website, where you quickly enter your payment information and, in a few days, you find that purchase at your doorstep. 

Grateful to find such a dope clothing item at such a bargain price, you probably didn’t stop to wonder how much the laborers who made the pants — which were most likely created in sweatshops in a developing country — were paid, or how costly it was to ship the pants from some faraway factory to your doorstep. 

But these are the important questions journalist and author Dana Thomas explores in her new book, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes. Released earlier this month on Sept. 3, the book explores the harmful effects of the fast fashion industry. Thomas defines fast fashion as the “production of trendy, inexpensive garments in vast amounts at lightning speed in subcontracted factories, to be hawked in thousands of chain stores.” Sound familiar? It should.

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The book is divided into three sections and begins with a dive into the history of the fashion industry and the impact of technological inventions, such as the power loom and advanced sewing machines, on the clothing production process. It also discusses how policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement affected the industry by driving companies to outsource jobs to Mexico and other countries, which, according to Thomas, led to the loss of a million jobs in the U.S.

The book also discusses the trickle-down effect that many of us can recall hearing about in the infamous cerulean blue sweater scene in the movie The Devil Wears Prada. Designers send an item down the runway about six months ahead of the season in which they are to be worn. And before you know it, clothing brands such as Zara and Forever 21 have already created a similar design that uses less fabric and sent that design to manufacturers to be mass-produced by underpaid laborers and sold at insanely low prices just weeks later.

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In the first two sections, Thomas cites statistics and case studies to show that the current practices of the fast fashion industry aren’t sustainable. This is why we need to consider a new model for the clothing industry — one that does not exploit humans for cheap labor, harm animals or waste important resources.

In the last section of Fashionopolis, Thomas highlights the people working toward a more sustainable future of fashion, such as designer Stella McCartney and entrepreneur Nina Marenzi. Marenzi’s platform, The Sustainable Angle, makes sustainable textiles accessible to fashion houses and designers.

 Through her research and engaging storytelling, Thomas does a good job of breaking down the history of fashion and pulling together seemingly unrelated factors to draw a timeline that explains how we arrived here — and inspires hope for a way out.

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