“The garment industry employs between one sixth and one seventh of all women on earth, and therefore is probably the single-most responsible entity for the global gender wage gap.” When faced with facts and figures of such magnitude, you have to cringe at how little attention the media and we as consumers pay to the reality of the apparel industry. In many ways, the horror of fast fashion and totally unethical buying choices are treated like global warming was a few years back – an uncomfortable truth that’d lump a lot of guilt and inconvenience on all of us. The difference between the two catastrophes is that fast fashion lacks a timeframe – there’s no scorching hot sun imagery to scare us into addressing the issue, just our own morality and an ever-expanding industry that’s driving women into the ground.
This is sad, not only because of the incredible damage those of us who blindly shop in highstreet chains are doing to those suffering at the hands of evil employers and twisted supply chains, but also because this is a feminist issue that’s not “hot” enough to reach the mainstream. Personally, I’m fine with consumerist feminism, and was enthused about Beyonce’s FEMINIST backdrop at the VMAs from the start. But when The Sun reported that her Ivy Park activewear range had been produced by women earning $6 a day, it shed a new light on the pitfalls of mainstream feminism. Ivy Park refuted the claims, but people bought the stuff anyways before their rebuttal was released, and when you have a global feminist superstar putting out a new clothes line, there really shouldn’t be a shadow of a doubt about where and how those clothes were sourced.
“Our clothes are keeping women in poverty around the world.” Statements like these pepper Threadbare, a new collection of comics journalism by Anne Elizabeth Moore and the Ladydrawers Collective published by Microcosm, a book that pulls no punches. If you’ve been squirming about your wardrobe’s real origins but batting the worries away by whinging about your bank balance, this book is for you. If you’ve never considered your clothes’ lives before you picked them off the hanger, but have any interest in fashion, feminism, the sex trade, NGOs, global development or social justice, it’s for you too.
The creators of this book recognise that trying to shop ethically is hard and confusing, given the level of effort it takes to track down any supply chain or get honest, straight answers from a PR. The real conditions of the fashion industry are in the dark for most of us laypeople, so Threadbare makes it painfully visible. Comics journalism is the perfect form for this reporting – Moore writes in the foreword, “the task I set out for this project was to draw a concise image of something we cannot see, articulate systems we cannot envision, and share information to which we often simply do not have access.”
To do this, they report from around the world and show how policies made largely in the West harm both the women abroad who are making these clothes and those at home who are selling them. In their native US, they explore the boom of fast fashion in its “spiritual home and primary beneficiary.” In Austria, where H&M abounds, they look at how male end consumers fit into a trade with a female workforce at the bottom – many of the clothes Austrian men purchase have been made by women in Asia who are drastically underpaid and choose to enter the sex trade to make ends meet. A chapter on Cambodia exposes a stomach-turning circle of power in which sex workers are brought into “rehab” programs only to be fed by garment industry funded-NGOs straight back into the positions they wanted to leave in the first place. When women strike in these factories, they are murdered by the military. The final chapter looks at how the West and the US in particular have used false saviour stories to make the perpetuation of this gender-based poverty seem somehow like the right option.
This small book packs a whole lot into its pages, and also displays a stunning range of art styles. Any zine-lovers will eat this patchwork style up, and those who’re used to reading longform broadsheet or magazine investigative journalism will be pleased by endnotes provided and a clear sense of deep reporting throughout the book. With the feminist nonfiction market being led by either academics or bloggers, this book sits nicely in the middle and can act as a nice break from either of the aforementioned types of writers. Covering everything from the high fashion model to the factory sewer, Threadbare is a primer for your new ethical shopping life.
Threadbare is published 29 July by Microcosm
Find out more about the Ladydrawers here
Read an interview with the founder of Microcosm here
Post by Heather