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Fashionopolis (Young Readers Edition)

The Secrets Behind the Clothes We Wear

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Hardcover
$17.99 US
5.91"W x 8.56"H x 0.76"D  
On sale Feb 15, 2022 | 208 Pages | 9780593325018
| Grades 6-8
Reading Level: Lexile 1060L | Fountas & Pinnell Z
A look at fast fashion and its impact on the environment and social justice, perfect for middle grade classrooms

Did you ever think about where your jeans come from? How about the people who made your T-shirt, or what happens to the clothes you grow out of when you're done wearing them? The fabrics clothes are made of, the way they are designed and sewn and shipped around the world, and the way we consume them and get rid of them--every step in this process has a big impact on our environment, on the people who work in clothing factories, and on our cultures. This nonfiction book shows us how the clothes we wear--and throw away--every day are made, and what that means for our planet and for people around the world.
Dana Thomas is the author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, Fashionopolis Young Readers Edition, Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano and the New York Times bestseller Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, all published by Penguin Press. She is the European Sustainability Editor for British Vogue, a regular contributor to the New York Times, and hosts “The Green Dream,” a weekly podcast on sustainability, produced by Wondercast.Studio. She wrote the screenplay for Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams, a feature documentary directed by Luca Guadagnino, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020.
 
Thomas began her career writing for the Style section of The Washington Post, and for fifteen years she served as a cultural and fashion correspondent for Newsweek in Paris. Thomas has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Architectural Digest. In 1987, she received the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation’s Ellis Haller Award for Outstanding Achievement in Journalism. In 2016, the French Minister of Culture named Thomas a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. And in 2017, she was a Logan Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good. She lives in Paris. View titles by Dana Thomas

CHAPTER ONE: Ready to Wear

Walk into a fast-fashion store—­a Zara, an H&M, an Urban Outfitters, a Gap—­and what do you see? A cool space with cool music and cool sales assistants who are eager to help you. But most of all you will see racks and racks of cool clothes. Dresses, shirts, pants, jeans. All affordable—­even cheap.

What you don’t see is how these clothes were made. Where they are made. Who makes them. You don’t know what the factory looks like. Is it clean and safe? Or a dirty, illegal, falling-­down building, known as a sweatshop?

You don’t know how the cotton was grown. Or how the sheep that were raised for the wool were treated. Or what it takes to make synthetic fabrics—­meaning non-­natural fabrics—­such as polyester, nylon, spandex, or rayon. What is rayon anyway?

And you don’t see where all those cool design ideas came from.

What I’m about to lay out for you here are the basics of mass production, or the “supply chain”: the system of companies and people making and delivering an item. For a T-­shirt, the supply chain begins with the cotton farmer, followed by the mill where the cotton is spun, the dye house where it is dyed, and the factory where it is sewn.

And while I’ll be explaining how clothes are made, I could be talking about anything that is manufactured—­from toys to electronics. I’ll show how the system has been corrupted by greed, and how that greed has hurt people and the planet. I will spotlight some heroes who have fought against this dark system, and have come up with a cleaner, safer, more honest way of making and selling clothing. And I’ll show you some of the amazing inventions that can take it all forward in a better way.

Let’s start by looking at how the fashion business is structured.

Picture a pyramid.

In the small triangle at the top are one-­of-­a-­kind, made-­to-­measure clothes for elite customers. For women, it’s known as haute couture (pronounced “oat co-­CHURE”), a French term that translates to “high sewing.” For men, it’s bespoke (“bee-­SPOKE”) tailoring. These clothes are primarily sewn by hand, and require several fittings on the customer. For women, fittings are usually done in Paris, since that’s where most haute couture houses are based. For men, it’s traditionally in London—­the best tailor shops have long been located on a street named Savile Row. Haute couture prices are about the same as for cars: $25,000 and up for a suit or dress, and $100,000 or more for an evening gown. Bespoke suits cost around $6,000, and easily can run up to $10,000, depending on the choice of fabric.

Haute couture designers, known as couturiers (“coo-­TUR-­ee-­ays”), traditionally present their new designs during fashion shows in Paris each January and July. Bespoke menswear shows are usually staged in Florence, Italy, in January and June. When actors and actresses walk the red carpets at awards shows like the Oscars and the Golden Globes, they are often wearing haute couture and bespoke creations lent to or made for them by brands to generate publicity. That’s why red-­carpet reporters always ask stars: “Who are you wearing?”

Haute couture and bespoke are the most creative and beautifully executed clothes in fashion, and serve as inspiration for the next level on the pyramid: ready-­to-­wear, the factory-­made clothes you find in department stores, nice boutiques, and online. (Think of it this way: Couture and bespoke is made just for you, and requires several visits to get the fit just right. Ready-­to-­wear is exactly as it sounds: When you buy it in a store or online, it is ready to wear. You can put it on and walk out the door!) Ready-­to-­wear covers a broad range of quality—­from luxury brands such as Gucci and Prada, to mall stores like Ann Taylor and Brooks Brothers. Even casual wear brands Patagonia and Levi’s are, officially, ready-­to-­wear. Generally, ready-­to-­wear is well made, in good fabrics. Solid, nice-­looking clothes of value. Clothes you keep and wear for a while.

The wide slice on the bottom of the pyramid is fast-fashion: cheap, trendy clothes produced in vast amounts at lightning speed, and sold in thousands of chain stores worldwide.

Fast-fashion is a new addition to the pyramid, born in the 1990s. But it has grown rapidly, and is the cause of many of the problems that plague the clothing business today.

For designs, fast-fashion companies tend to copy—­or “knock off”—­what they see in the ready-­to­wear shows. A fast-fashion brand may tweak the outfit it copies—­change the color, or fiddle with the print design—­to avoid being accused of outright stealing. But it is theft, no question about it.

To make clothes that they can sell not only for a lower retail price than ready-­to-­wear, but an extremely low price, fast-fashion brands reduce the production cost at every turn. Production price is what the brand pays to have the garment made—­and includes materials, labor, shipping. Retail price is what you pay in the store.

Fast-fashion brands squeeze production costs wherever they can. They use the cheapest fabric available—­usually a synthetic, like polyester or rayon, even though those fabrics create a lot of pollution both when they’re made and when they’re eventually thrown away. (Most never biodegrade, or break down, in landfill.) They have the clothes sewn by workers in the world’s poorest countries—­places like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. When I visited Bangladesh in 2018, the minimum wage for workers who make clothes, or “apparel,” was $68 a month, or less than $3 a day. Generally, if a fast-fashion shirt costs $10, the person who made it was paid ten cents.

The factory owner gets paid a bit of the remaining $9.90. Shipping costs a portion of it too. There are the tariffs—­taxes charged by governments on products imported, or brought in, to their countries. And there are distribution costs.

But the biggest slice of that $9.90 goes to the brand as profits, the money that the company earns after paying the costs of producing and selling an item. The profit is multiplied by a number of T-shirts made and sold—­the larger the number, the larger the profit. Each year, Americans buy 3.5 billion T-­shirts. Say about half of that $9.90 is profit. (Though the profit percentage—­called “the margin”—­is probably more than half.) That means brands make more than $17 billion a year on T-­shirts in the United States alone.

This is why fast-fashion brand owners are multi-­millionaires, or billionaires, and are among the richest people in the world.

Now, let’s look at what this pyramid gives us.

Today, fashion is a $3-trillion-­a-­year industry.

It produces about 100 billion items annually; we buy 80 billion. The remaining 20 billion are destroyed—­usually burned or shredded.

The average garment is worn seven times before being thrown away, according to a UK study. In China, it is reportedly three times.

Roughly one out of every six people works in fashion.

The majority of factory workers are women, and 98 percent are not paid a living wage—­the figure calculated by economists as the amount you need to house, feed, and clothe yourself and your family.

In 2020, six of the top fifty wealthiest people in the world owned fashion companies. The sixth—richest person in the world was Amancio Ortega, the cofounder and owner of Zara. He was worth $70 billion—­a billion times more than what the Bangladesh workers were paid each month.

According to the World Bank, the clothing industry is responsible for 20 percent of all industrial water pollution, and 10 percent of all carbon emissions.

When you walk into a fast-fashion store, everything may look cool.

But in reality, it is not cool.

Not at all.

★ "The text stays conversational, never talking down to young readers, and instead equipping them with economicand manufacturing knowledge through personal anecdotes and company spotlights (and even occasional pronunciation help) . . . An immensely compelling and critical guide for young readers beginningto make their own fashion choices." Booklist, starred review

"If readers have ever wondered where the inexpensive current fashion items come from, those questions will be answered . . . Socially conscious readers will appreciate this title." School Library Connection

“Thomas travels the world to find innovators tackling the consequences of fast fashion . . . a compelling and devastating argument for why we should all be making more thoughtful choices.” —Daisy Lester, The Independent

About

A look at fast fashion and its impact on the environment and social justice, perfect for middle grade classrooms

Did you ever think about where your jeans come from? How about the people who made your T-shirt, or what happens to the clothes you grow out of when you're done wearing them? The fabrics clothes are made of, the way they are designed and sewn and shipped around the world, and the way we consume them and get rid of them--every step in this process has a big impact on our environment, on the people who work in clothing factories, and on our cultures. This nonfiction book shows us how the clothes we wear--and throw away--every day are made, and what that means for our planet and for people around the world.

Author

Dana Thomas is the author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, Fashionopolis Young Readers Edition, Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano and the New York Times bestseller Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, all published by Penguin Press. She is the European Sustainability Editor for British Vogue, a regular contributor to the New York Times, and hosts “The Green Dream,” a weekly podcast on sustainability, produced by Wondercast.Studio. She wrote the screenplay for Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams, a feature documentary directed by Luca Guadagnino, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020.
 
Thomas began her career writing for the Style section of The Washington Post, and for fifteen years she served as a cultural and fashion correspondent for Newsweek in Paris. Thomas has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Architectural Digest. In 1987, she received the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation’s Ellis Haller Award for Outstanding Achievement in Journalism. In 2016, the French Minister of Culture named Thomas a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. And in 2017, she was a Logan Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good. She lives in Paris. View titles by Dana Thomas

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE: Ready to Wear

Walk into a fast-fashion store—­a Zara, an H&M, an Urban Outfitters, a Gap—­and what do you see? A cool space with cool music and cool sales assistants who are eager to help you. But most of all you will see racks and racks of cool clothes. Dresses, shirts, pants, jeans. All affordable—­even cheap.

What you don’t see is how these clothes were made. Where they are made. Who makes them. You don’t know what the factory looks like. Is it clean and safe? Or a dirty, illegal, falling-­down building, known as a sweatshop?

You don’t know how the cotton was grown. Or how the sheep that were raised for the wool were treated. Or what it takes to make synthetic fabrics—­meaning non-­natural fabrics—­such as polyester, nylon, spandex, or rayon. What is rayon anyway?

And you don’t see where all those cool design ideas came from.

What I’m about to lay out for you here are the basics of mass production, or the “supply chain”: the system of companies and people making and delivering an item. For a T-­shirt, the supply chain begins with the cotton farmer, followed by the mill where the cotton is spun, the dye house where it is dyed, and the factory where it is sewn.

And while I’ll be explaining how clothes are made, I could be talking about anything that is manufactured—­from toys to electronics. I’ll show how the system has been corrupted by greed, and how that greed has hurt people and the planet. I will spotlight some heroes who have fought against this dark system, and have come up with a cleaner, safer, more honest way of making and selling clothing. And I’ll show you some of the amazing inventions that can take it all forward in a better way.

Let’s start by looking at how the fashion business is structured.

Picture a pyramid.

In the small triangle at the top are one-­of-­a-­kind, made-­to-­measure clothes for elite customers. For women, it’s known as haute couture (pronounced “oat co-­CHURE”), a French term that translates to “high sewing.” For men, it’s bespoke (“bee-­SPOKE”) tailoring. These clothes are primarily sewn by hand, and require several fittings on the customer. For women, fittings are usually done in Paris, since that’s where most haute couture houses are based. For men, it’s traditionally in London—­the best tailor shops have long been located on a street named Savile Row. Haute couture prices are about the same as for cars: $25,000 and up for a suit or dress, and $100,000 or more for an evening gown. Bespoke suits cost around $6,000, and easily can run up to $10,000, depending on the choice of fabric.

Haute couture designers, known as couturiers (“coo-­TUR-­ee-­ays”), traditionally present their new designs during fashion shows in Paris each January and July. Bespoke menswear shows are usually staged in Florence, Italy, in January and June. When actors and actresses walk the red carpets at awards shows like the Oscars and the Golden Globes, they are often wearing haute couture and bespoke creations lent to or made for them by brands to generate publicity. That’s why red-­carpet reporters always ask stars: “Who are you wearing?”

Haute couture and bespoke are the most creative and beautifully executed clothes in fashion, and serve as inspiration for the next level on the pyramid: ready-­to-­wear, the factory-­made clothes you find in department stores, nice boutiques, and online. (Think of it this way: Couture and bespoke is made just for you, and requires several visits to get the fit just right. Ready-­to-­wear is exactly as it sounds: When you buy it in a store or online, it is ready to wear. You can put it on and walk out the door!) Ready-­to-­wear covers a broad range of quality—­from luxury brands such as Gucci and Prada, to mall stores like Ann Taylor and Brooks Brothers. Even casual wear brands Patagonia and Levi’s are, officially, ready-­to-­wear. Generally, ready-­to-­wear is well made, in good fabrics. Solid, nice-­looking clothes of value. Clothes you keep and wear for a while.

The wide slice on the bottom of the pyramid is fast-fashion: cheap, trendy clothes produced in vast amounts at lightning speed, and sold in thousands of chain stores worldwide.

Fast-fashion is a new addition to the pyramid, born in the 1990s. But it has grown rapidly, and is the cause of many of the problems that plague the clothing business today.

For designs, fast-fashion companies tend to copy—­or “knock off”—­what they see in the ready-­to­wear shows. A fast-fashion brand may tweak the outfit it copies—­change the color, or fiddle with the print design—­to avoid being accused of outright stealing. But it is theft, no question about it.

To make clothes that they can sell not only for a lower retail price than ready-­to-­wear, but an extremely low price, fast-fashion brands reduce the production cost at every turn. Production price is what the brand pays to have the garment made—­and includes materials, labor, shipping. Retail price is what you pay in the store.

Fast-fashion brands squeeze production costs wherever they can. They use the cheapest fabric available—­usually a synthetic, like polyester or rayon, even though those fabrics create a lot of pollution both when they’re made and when they’re eventually thrown away. (Most never biodegrade, or break down, in landfill.) They have the clothes sewn by workers in the world’s poorest countries—­places like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. When I visited Bangladesh in 2018, the minimum wage for workers who make clothes, or “apparel,” was $68 a month, or less than $3 a day. Generally, if a fast-fashion shirt costs $10, the person who made it was paid ten cents.

The factory owner gets paid a bit of the remaining $9.90. Shipping costs a portion of it too. There are the tariffs—­taxes charged by governments on products imported, or brought in, to their countries. And there are distribution costs.

But the biggest slice of that $9.90 goes to the brand as profits, the money that the company earns after paying the costs of producing and selling an item. The profit is multiplied by a number of T-shirts made and sold—­the larger the number, the larger the profit. Each year, Americans buy 3.5 billion T-­shirts. Say about half of that $9.90 is profit. (Though the profit percentage—­called “the margin”—­is probably more than half.) That means brands make more than $17 billion a year on T-­shirts in the United States alone.

This is why fast-fashion brand owners are multi-­millionaires, or billionaires, and are among the richest people in the world.

Now, let’s look at what this pyramid gives us.

Today, fashion is a $3-trillion-­a-­year industry.

It produces about 100 billion items annually; we buy 80 billion. The remaining 20 billion are destroyed—­usually burned or shredded.

The average garment is worn seven times before being thrown away, according to a UK study. In China, it is reportedly three times.

Roughly one out of every six people works in fashion.

The majority of factory workers are women, and 98 percent are not paid a living wage—­the figure calculated by economists as the amount you need to house, feed, and clothe yourself and your family.

In 2020, six of the top fifty wealthiest people in the world owned fashion companies. The sixth—richest person in the world was Amancio Ortega, the cofounder and owner of Zara. He was worth $70 billion—­a billion times more than what the Bangladesh workers were paid each month.

According to the World Bank, the clothing industry is responsible for 20 percent of all industrial water pollution, and 10 percent of all carbon emissions.

When you walk into a fast-fashion store, everything may look cool.

But in reality, it is not cool.

Not at all.

Praise

★ "The text stays conversational, never talking down to young readers, and instead equipping them with economicand manufacturing knowledge through personal anecdotes and company spotlights (and even occasional pronunciation help) . . . An immensely compelling and critical guide for young readers beginningto make their own fashion choices." Booklist, starred review

"If readers have ever wondered where the inexpensive current fashion items come from, those questions will be answered . . . Socially conscious readers will appreciate this title." School Library Connection

“Thomas travels the world to find innovators tackling the consequences of fast fashion . . . a compelling and devastating argument for why we should all be making more thoughtful choices.” —Daisy Lester, The Independent

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