Thank you for writing this book Clare Press. The madness of throw-away, fast-fashion gluttony is rapidly destroying the environment, the clothing industry as a whole, artisanship in fashion and appreciation of quality, exploits workers (mostly women) in developing countries, and is causing the air and waterways in China to become toxic. The devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh in 2013 that killed 1,133 garment workers due to the poorly built, poorly maintained factories shone an ugly light on the shocking conditions that garment workers in third world countries endure in order that we may buy cheap clothes and toss them out after one or two wears.
The US alone produces 11 million tons of textile waste per year. Most of this ends up in landfill in the US or is dumped in third world countries, and can take 200 years to decompose all the while emitting toxic greenhouse gases. Australia is second only to the US in its per capita consumption of clothing, so a book that holds a mirror to our own self-indulgent, self-destructive wastefulness is timely.
Clare Press is fashion editor-at-large for Australian Marie Clare so she holds a bit of clout in the Aussie fashion industry. While Lucy Siegle’s book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? and excellent documentary The True Cost brilliantly and horrifically expose the consequences of the rise of clothing hyper-consumerism worldwide in the last two decades, Australians can always retreat into our delusional cocoons thinking we only have a small population so we can’t be doing much harm, can we? Yes we can.
Wardrobe Crisis brilliantly dissects every aspect of the fashion industry from the history of Haute Couture in Paris to the environmental and human brutality in modern day supply chains behind fast fashion behemoths such as Zara and H & M. Press’ research is meticulous, and due to her insider status, she is able to present us with extraordinary insights into how fashion went from a coveted art form to environmental and social disaster fuelled by consumerist madness.
It’s sounds like a pretty intense read but thanks to Press’ offbeat sense of humour and skillful storytelling, Wardrobe Crisis is a page turner. There are fascinating and witty stories about Australia’s Beryl Jents using the term ‘Couture’ (she was “no more ‘Queen of Couture’ than I am”), the ‘Caution fee’ system in Paris that was basically permission to copy the couture collections after the runway shows (“it’s hard to imagine this now in the Instagram era”), the origins of the terms ‘Sweat Shop’ and ‘the Gruen Transfer’, the influence of celebrity activists such as Rosario Dawson and Pharrell Williams, and so on. There are interesting arguments about whether ethical designers such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood can really be ethical while still working in the fashion industry. She quotes Katherine Hamnett: “Fashion will always exist and I’m glad about that. But the fashion industry needs to be reformed.”
Press gives a lot of credence to outdoor clothing company Patagonia. While not a high fashion company, it appears that it is leading the way in accountability in its supply chains and environmental footprint. So there is hope for a sustainable future in fashion. Now we just have to do something about that pesky greed everyone seems to have.