Writer, author and journalist, Tansy E. Hoskins, has written a new book called Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion. Perfectly in line with my growing concern about and investigation of the fashion industry, I am eager to read it and learn more. Ms. Hoskins kindly agreed to answer some of my most pressing questions in advance of the release of Stitched Up, now available for purchase.
Q. What motivated you write Stitched Up?
A. 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. From the eating disorders I have watched friends fight to the desire within people to consume clothes that is like a black hole that can never be filled.
Q. I have been educating myself on the fashion industry and its ills, but have the nagging feeling that I'm asking the wrong questions. The solution to consumerism is surely not "good" consumerism. What questions should I be asking before I buy?
A. Focusing on trying to shop better is the wrong way of approaching this crisis. I hope Stitched Up will show that people need to stop looking for individual solutions to this crisis – like looking for that one ‘perfect’ brand of clothing - and instead start thinking systemically. I always think - what is the point of making yourself feel good about shopping choices when people and planet are still enslaved? What is one rack of less exploitative clothes compared to 50 billion pieces churned out of China each year? We need to overhaul our entire system not rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Q. The fashion industry relies on the relationship between the haves and the have-nots. This month, New York Fashion Week tents strove to restore an air of exclusivity not seen in recent years, but you use a definition for fashion that is "open and inclusive". What would egalitarian fashion look like?
A. They exclude us normal people - except when they come begging for us to buy their mass produced crap which actually funds their companies - jeans, perfume, makeup, sunglasses etc. I think that clothing not controlled by corporations would be amazing. At the moment the choices are so narrow and production is based on what can be cheaply made within certain trend limitations. No capitalism would equal more variety, more interesting clothing, and more freedom for the individual. Imagine clothing where the restrictions of class, race, and gender don't apply - it could be anything!
Q. I applaud your investigation of all of the problems of the fashion industry, like working conditions, environmental destruction, body image, racism, and consumerism. I struggle to find options that address all of these issues. Is it possible for one company to successfully overcome them all? Do you know any brands that do?
A. People are sometimes disappointed that I don’t recommend any brands but I choose not to pretend that any brand is made without exploitation. Temporary disappointment is however a small price to pay for taking part in the biggest challenge ever faced by humanity – the overthrow of capitalism. We need to be thinking bigger than just single brands or single sections of the market. In Chapter Ten ‘Revolutionising Fashion’ I look at one idea which is thinking about 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. We need socially owned and organised production - this 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.
Q. Many brands are, unbeknownst to consumers, holdings of huge conglomerates. Do you think a return to independent designers and manufacturers is one answer to the corporatization of fashion?
A. The monopolisation of the fashion industry is extreme. Sales of luxury goods stand at $150 billion per year and 60% of this goes to just 35 brands most of which are owned by a couple of conglomerates like LVMH. What hope do independent designers have against this kind of money and power when you need $120,000 to show at NYFW? The sad thing is that independent designers get taken over by conglomerates, but even when you are independent you are still working to the call of the market – for sales not creativity.
Q. Besides Stitched Up, what are some resources for staying informed and promoting positive change in the fashion industry?
A. Luckily there are quite a few, War on Want are great – Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops; Haiti Support Group produce great work about the garment industry there; Greenpeace on toxic chemicals in clothes, global unions like UniGlobal and IndustriAll; Asia Floor Wage Campaign; The Models Union and The Models Alliance; the NGFW in Bangladesh; Clean Clothes Campaign; Labour Behind The Label...
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