Review – Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes by Michael Lavergne


Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes
by Michael Lavergne

There are plenty of books on the market bemoaning the sad state of the mainstream fashion industry from working conditions to the life-cycle of the average fast fashion garment. And while they are all well-written, carefully researched, and offer inspiration to change our shopping and fashion habits, most of them fall short on two counts – first because they are seldom written by someone with a first-hand, working knowledge of the apparel industry, and second, because while the suggestions for change are well-intended, they aren’t based in practicality.

Fixing Fashion by Michael Lavergne (Amazon) offers a different perspective. Lavergne made his start in the fashion industry working for corporations such as WalMart, and the apparel arm of Sara Lee. He specialized in product sourcing and supply chains (getting all the material to the right place at the right time and then getting the manufactured goods to stores halfway across the world in a timely fashion), and became an expert in labour and safety standards as he witnessed contractors and sub-contractors ignoring local laws (and corporate standards) regarding everything from wages to child labour to building codes.

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Backs Against the Wal

I would be surprised if anyone, let alone anyone in the “foodie bubble” hasn’t heard the news of Wal-Mart‘s new commitment to selling healthy food. I’ve got a list of links below, but some points to remember on the new program:

  • it will be officially rolled out in the US only – Wal-Mart Canada will be affected only in terms of house-brand products, and any influence to other corporately-produced foods
  • the goal is to reduce added sugars, salt and industrial trans fats in Wal-Mart’s own branded products and to pressure corporate food processors to do the same  – this is really just making unhealthy processed foods *slightly* less bad, it is NOT a concerted effort to add healthy foods, or brands with health as part of their MO to the shelves
  • junk food, particularly soda, will remain unaffected, leaving the “choice” up to consumers

However, we cannot overlook Wal-Mart’s huge buying power – it is the only corporation in the world that can get away with dictating to producers how their product must be made, right down to the packaging. (Wal-Mart is in the process of implementing sustainability ratings for all products it sells, which will include disposal of said product and its packaging.)

The new program also vows to bring food to food deserts, support smaller farms, bring back staple crops to areas that have been hard hit by competition from California and Florida, and shorten travel distances for the food it sells.

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Suck It Up Foodies, Wal-Mart Is In the House

Walmart announced last week that they were implementing new initiatives that would double the sale of fresh produce from local farms by 2015. For their purposes, Walmart defines “local” as being within the same state. There are also initiatives with regards to sustainability and supporting small farmers in India, China and Japan.

Full press release here.

You might think that this is a good thing. That Walmart is dedicated to being a positive influence on people’s eating habits and in supporting local farmers. Yet many people are eyeing it as a PR ploy, suggesting that Walmart has no intention of living up to its stated commitment, or that this policy may not actually be beneficial to local farmers, as Walmart has enough buying power to set the prices that they pay to producers, not the other way around.

Walmart has made huge efforts in the past few years to get on board the ethical food train. They are the largest retailer of organic produce in the US. In 2007, they pushed shrimp producers to become certified with the Marine Stewardship Council to farm shrimp sustainably. They created a sustainability index that will apply to every manufacturer of goods sold in Walmart stores, which will force manufacturers to be more eco-friendly in every step of the process, including final disposal of goods and packaging.

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Know Your Farmers, Trust Your Chefs

It’s easy to target locavores for their sometimes elitist and naive world view when it comes to what and how people should eat. (And for the record, I’m not saying they’re wrong, just that they should get their heads out of their asses when it comes to preaching at people who can’t afford to make food a priority…) But it appears that there’s a whole new way to take advantage of the gullible foodies who think they’re saving the world by “knowing where their food comes from”.

CHOW has an article this week about vendors who show up at farmers’ markets claiming to be farmers but who aren’t. Journalists from NBC Los Angeles bought produce from an LA-area farmers’ market and then made a point of visiting the farms the food came from. Except that some of those farms didn’t actually exist.

This is exactly the kind of thing that the Toronto area MyMarkets attempts to weed out, requiring that all vendors be certified and that vendors sell only the food that they themselves have grown. This unfortunately rules out co-operatives like the Kawartha Ecological Growers (KEG), but does a good job of culling the people who would head to the food terminal and load up on imports and sell them as their own. CHOW’s got a list of things to look for to ensure that you’re dealing directly with the farmer and not some scoundrel reseller.

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