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SDA Book Club: Fashionopolis reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

Our first entry for 2022 into SDA’s Book Club is Fashionopolis, reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer!

Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas

If a person is adept at seeing the Big Picture we say they are cosmopolitan.  When someone has a ubiquitous knowledge of their city we may say they are very metropolitan. If there is a world of complete sartorial knowledge it would be Fashionopolis and Dana Thomas can then be said to be absolutely and thoroughly Fashionopolitan! 

Fashionopolis wasn’t published in the US until it arrived in paper in 2020, which opens that wonderful question presented to all non-fiction today: what has changed about all this in light of the global COVID19 pandemic, and also now after the recent global climate summit, COP26. First, let’s look at “all this” in this particular book. 

Leaving the practices and history before mechanized mass production aside, while offering sobering statistics on the global role of textiles, Thomas covers the world of inputs through to wearable textiles from mid 19th century to the present. She takes special care in writing about those that have labored and the often horrific conditions of their work, that we may all not go naked. Additionally, in Fashionopolis one reads about clothing as an economic element from both the consumer and the producer side; international policies -some that have been destructive in their implementation (NAFTA, for example); myriad innovations on all steps of manufacture; the darlings of couture, its demands and social world; and raw materials production- the very origins of supply chains for clothing. 

In the dense and well researched information on all these topics Dana Thomas has a particular eye for those actions that happen in the Big World of fashion that are forward thinking, the globally minded and ecologically driven steps players have taken in their specific corner of Fashionopolis. 

Throughout the book Dana Thomas names names – companies and individuals! Her notes are extensive and unimpeachable. She calls out the rogues, praises those who perform acts of redemption by changing their practices, and uplifts those who continually work in the industries in socially and environmentally progressive ways.  I loved reading about Sally Fox, long time California organic colored cotton grower, Natalie Chanin, devotee to her small town Southern US roots through revitalizing the industries that first made the South, and Stella McCartney, who seems up for smartly trying any material that conforms to her vegan ethos, while not compromising her artistic eye.

Thomas has little to say about sheep and wool, except in referring to an oft repeated, easily repudiated assertion  from the aughts, that “the livestock industry generates at least half of all greenhouse gas emissions” (p.197 , which cites a 2009 World Watch report). This was embedded in a discussion of leather. Recent research has backed off on this dire notion.  ( Houzer, E. and Scoones, I. (2021) Are Livestock Always Bad for the Planet? Rethinking the Protein Transition and Climate Change Debate. Brighton: PASTRES).Wool which grows every year, unlike leather which is harvested once, comes from healthy living sheep bodies. There is no mechanized way to remove it, and so human shearers must be employed. ( see Raw Material: working wool in the west , by Stephany Wilkes). Between shearings the sheep must dine on superior feed, which their several stomachs can digest and humans cannot; growing good wool means growing good grass and pasture. Increasingly pasture growers are incorporating regenerative agricultural practices, an ecologically promising set of agricultural practices. Full disclosure: Your reviewer is a wool sheep farmer. With the clips from about 20 sheep per year our farm has sought to vertically integrate, such that we also facilitate making,  and sell hats and socks, and are thus participants in Fashionopolis.  We are not economically at the scale of Thomas’ other examples.

I also wish Thomas had leaned on the responsibility of consumers to basically consume both less and more thoughtfully, and had discussed, in this context, what else that might mean. Thomas’ book has mainly written about an industry, calling out the problems that have led us to the mess that is “fast fashion” and spotlighted a smattering of responses. Many authors have been picking up this clarion call for “slow fashion”, usually in writing about more specific niches and locales in the Fashionopolis community and putting some control back in consumers’ hands. Katrina Rodabaugh has done this masterfully in both her books Mending Matters: stitch, patch, and repair your favorite denim & more and Make Thrift Mend: stitch, patch, darn, plant dye and love your wardrobe.  Rodabaugh’s simple thorough instructions can motivate readers to act on urges to consume less, and clothe themselves with greater consideration for the environment, using their existing wardrobe or curating and upcycling from a second hand source.

Toward the end of Fashionopolis there are some very exciting 21st century materials and manufacture explorations, the results of which, and the true costs of which have yet to be fully calculated. One such company is Seattle based Evrnu, who is …creating a circular ecosystem. Evrnu’s multiple lifecycle fiber technologies are used to create engineered fibers with extraordinary performance and environmental advantages, made from discarded clothing.” In other words  Evrnu  transforms what once were garments of multiple fiber contents into threads to be rewoven, reknit, remade.  Wow!  Their website led me to the Textile Exchange, where a fiber nerd can spend a lot of time drilling way down into the supply chains.  Reading Fashionopolis opens many such avenues of exploration for one wanting to learn about our world of clothing.

  • Publisher: Penguin Random House (buy it here)
  • Date: September 2020
  • ISBN: 9780735224032

If you’ve read this book, leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Do you have a recommendation for a recent fiber-related book you think should be included in SDA’s Book Club? Email SDA’s Managing Editor, Lauren Sinner, to let her know!


  • Barbara J Matthews says

    January 7, 2022 at 8:27 am

    Nicely written Faith! This makes me want to explore creative clothing options. I wonder if an interview of Enrvu founders might be interesting. One curiosity I have is how they achieve the long fibers that allow clothing to be longer wearing and less pilling. I have to admit that life events have interfered with me reading your prior book reviews. I'll have to go back! Thanks for this!

  • Alison Gates says

    January 9, 2022 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks for mentioning wool. I’m growing more and more concerned that petroleum byproduct fibers (poly, acrylic) are flooding the markets because they’re “vegan.” They never biodegrade. Wool, fur, leather, all that will return to the earth. Better to buy responsibly sourced animal fiber if you don’t want the world filling up with micro particles and old leggings…

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