Book Review – Stitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion

stitchedup_coverStitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion
Tansy E. Hoskins
Pluto Press © 2014

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.

Hoskins’ saves her sharpest criticism for so called “ethical” fashion companies; TOMS (a US shoe chain that sends a pair of shoes to Africa for every pair sold) and Bono’s RED come under particular scrutiny as the author points out that neither organization does much good for the people they purport to help. TOMS sends low-end (sweatshop-made) product to Africa where it would be more beneficial to finance local industry so people could have jobs, not just a pair of crap shoes. And while RED sells goods with a portion of the profit dedicated to AIDS treatment in Africa, most of the merchandise is made in sweatshop conditions in China or elsewhere.

Stitched Up is an excellent primer on everything that is wrong with the fashion industry. Unfortunately, written with the premise of anti-capitialism as its theme, it offers no logical actions that individuals can take to make things better. Hoskins suggests that the fashion industry needs to find alternative systems such as collective ownership, but goes further to suggest that there is no such thing as “just capitalism”, since the MO for corporations is to make a profit, and to do that, consumers need to continue to buy new (unnecessary) goods.

Since it seems unlikely that companies such as LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey) or even H&M would willingly disband their corporate structure and abandon shareholders in favour of a company where everyone rotated jobs and shared the profit, Hoskins’ Utopian fashion fantasy will never come to fruition.

For another look at the fashion industry, please see my review of Overdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.