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People We Love

Statements On Fashion With Dana Thomas

May 18, 2020

Author and journalist Dana Thomas is making a fashion statement. Just not the kind of fashion statement you think. She uses fashion as a way to explore and start a dialogue around the implications of the industry on our environment and mankind. The Laundress chatted with her about her findings and easy swaps we can all start making today.

What is your background and what inspired you to write your most recent book, Fashionopolis?
I began covering fashion at The Washington Post in the late 1980s, when the fashion editor Nina Hyde tapped me to be her assistant. In 1992, I moved to Paris, when I married a Frenchman, and have been writing about all things—from the Cannes Film Festival to the French Open—since then. For fifteen years, I was the European Cultural Correspondent for Newsweek, and now I am a regular freelance contributor to the New York Times. I’ve written three books: Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano; and now Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.

I wrote Fashionopolis as a follow-up to Deluxe, but also the third in a trilogy: Deluxe is about how fashion sacrificed in ingrate for the sake of profit; Gods and Kings is about how fashion sacrificed the creative for the sake of profit; and now it is about how fashion sacrificed the planet and humanity for the sale of profit. That said, these books are not about fashion. They are about business, capitalism, commerce, society, mankind—everything, really. I simply use fashion as a way to talk about bigger issues, because we all get dressed.



What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research and journey leading up to this?
I have covered fashion for 30 years, and nothing prepared me for the horror that was the sweatshops not only in Bangladesh, but also in Los Angeles. And I knew that fashion was a ruthless industry, but I didn’t not really how truly cut-throat it is—brutal, heartless--and how it is almost wholly driven by greed.

What have you personally changed since?
I’ve always been environmentally aware, and proactive—I am a kid from the 1970s, and remember those first Earth Days. I’ve had an organic garden for 25 years, and our eggs come from our henhouse. But this year, I’ve become a vegetarian. I try to only buy clothes from conscious designers, and go for organic cotton whenever possible. I wash my clothes a lot less, and on shorter cycles, and will soon incorporate The Laundress products into that process. And though I have long biked around Paris, I recently bought an electric bike for our place in the country. My aim is to go as carless as possible, even outside of the city.

Why is it important for consumers to be aware of how their clothing is made?
Then we can make informed choices. Food labeling tells us in detail what’s in our food. Shouldn’t we know the same about our clothes?

We’re buying much more now vs. 30 years ago because clothing has become so inexpensive. What is the downside to this?
The more we buy, the more taxing the entire system is on the planet: on the soil, the water table, the air and sea—think of the shipping, alone. And then where does all this clothing go? Landfill. Roughly 60 percent of our clothing contains polyester, and polyester is basically plastic—it never biodegrades. That’s about 50 billion garments a year stuffed in our poor Earth for eternity. Think about that for a moment.

What do you think has conditioned us to purchase so much?
The brands have pushed this on us in so many ways—through media coverage, publicity, influencers, social media, red carpet dressing, all of it. Like drug pushers. (There’s a 1970s saying!) We all became fashion addicts, and brand owners and shareholders became wildly rich. Just like in the drug culture. Simple as that.

Can you name some ways our community can make sustainable lifestyle changes or more informed decisions?
1. Read labels and do research. Find brands you can trust and shop with them.
2. #buylessbuybetter. Meaning: don’t buy ten cheapo t-shirts for $10 apiece. Buy one good one for $60 that will last longer and look better. Ditto with jeans. My teenage daughter is wearing my selvage 501s from the 1980s.
3. Wash your clothes less, on a short cycle, with cold water. This will save water and energy, and give your clothes a longer life. (And use The Laudress products for even a better environmental impact.
4. Resell. Do not throw clothes in the trash.
5. Repair: take up sewing and embroidery classes. Needlework is good for the soul, and mending gives your clothes a longer life.

Thoughts on Covid-19 and the effect it will have on the clothing rental/resale industry? What about the retail industry in general? Our purchasing habits?
I’ve actually just written a piece about this for British Vogue.

To cut down on waste, what do you suggest people do with clothes they no longer need or want?
Scarlett O’Hara turned the curtains into a dress. Maybe you can turn the dress into curtains! Quilting! Even if you cut them up into rags, that extends their life. Consign. Give to charity—but don’t just dump en masse. Target your charity donations. Like: look up the local home for battered women. Those women leave with the clothes on their back. If anyone could use a new dress, it’s a woman who fled an abusive household.

What does the future of the fashion industry look like, in your opinion?
Ah, if I had a crystal ball and could tell you that, I’d invest right away!

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