This question came up in an essay I read recently, and when I pondered it, it confused and bewildered me so much I had to write about it.
I’m always amused when movies about olde tymes show someone travelling with just a single small suitcase. Especially when they’re wearing crinolines and huge hats that you just know require multiple boxes and trunks and people to carry them. When we talk about emotional baggage I think about this comparison; the difference between people who can get their baggage all into one small carry-on versus the people who need a trunk.
Me, I carry my pain in two big steamer trunks. I imagine them as being like those gorgeous old Louis Vuitton wardrobes, with lots of little drawers and compartments, and the rod that pulls out for things that go on hangers.
Many books over the past few years have detailed the myriad wrongs of the fashion industry. Sweatshops, environmental damage, classism, racism, sizism, misogyny, not to mention the overall affect of rampant consumerism and debt on Western culture – all of these things come up time and again. And we read them, feel bad and then sooth our bad feelings by going shopping.
Tansy E. Hoskins’ Stitched Up looks at all of these and more, complete with extensively researched statistics and facts that will make anyone stop and revisit the idea of buying new clothes ever again. Hoskins examines the ownership of high-end fashion companies and the profits they make – given most high-end brands are made in the same sweatshops as fast fashion items, the corporate (and personal profit) can be astronomical. This is on the backs of underpaid workers, using processes that destroy water supplies, or using lethal chemicals (the exposure to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas in Bhopal, India in 1984 occurred when the chemical – which had been used on cotton crops – was left in unmaintained tanks when Union Carbide abandoned their factory). Hoskins’ account of the process to slaughter crocodiles for Hermes bags is shocking and horrific.
The overall theme of corporations creating demand to influence consumers to buy things they don’t need plays out in other chapters as well, as Hoskins’ demonstrates the way that women are made to feel too fat, not pretty enough, or even the wrong skin colour in order to sell merchandise. Fashion companies need to continually sell new goods; many chain stores now put out new “collections” every week instead or 2 or 4 times a year; everything plays to our insecurities, even if women of colour or larger sizes are not represented on the pages of magazines.