Writer Dana Thomas on the negative impact of the fashion industry on the modern world

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The writer Dana Thomas stirred up the fashion world by presenting a study book on the negative impact of the fashion industry on the modern world. At the same time, she showed how to rectify the situation by making fashion more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Dana Thomas exclusively told L'Officiel about creating a new bestseller.

The fashion world has known Dana Thomas for about 30 years. A native of Washington and a journalist by training, she began her career in the style department of the newspaper The Washington Post. Over the next 15 years, Thomas covered fashion and culture for Newsweek in Paris, while being a contributor to such influential global publications as the Financial Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue and Harper’s Bazar. She wrote her first book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster in 2007, telling how fashion from a private family business producing clothes for aristocrats and millionaires has grown into the mass market and fast-consumption industry. This edition instantly became a bestseller according to The New York Times and was included in the most prestigious lists of books required to read.

In 2015, Dana Thomas wrote a second book, this time dedicated to the fate of two extraordinary designers – Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. And in September 2019, she presented the result of her three-year study, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, about how fashion has turned into a problem industry, destroying climate and ecology, exploiting the work of people who are forced to work for pennies in inhuman conditions, and violating intellectual property rights. The writer traveled all over America and traveled to different countries of the world to see with her own eyes how clothes are created in our days. She also spoke with those people who have already embarked on a slow fashion – conscious production and consumption, behind which Thomas sees the future of fashion. Despite the fact that the book reveals very painful topics, it gives hope, because after analyzing the situation, the author talks about a variety of ways to overcome the crisis – from changing thinking and moving to a reasonable approach to buying clothes to 3D printing, fabric processing and hyperlocalization of production.

For several months, the book Fashionopolis: The Price of fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes caused a huge resonance, and Courtney Love, Amber Valletta, Ines de la Fressange, Rick Owens and Stella McCartney joined the ranks of her fans. Specially for L’Officiel readers, Dana Thomas answered questions about her research and work on the book.

Given, what was the impulse after which you decided to take up the research and write a book?

The fact is that the concept of sustainability has always been important to me, even when I was a child.

My grandfather and my mother had gardens with organic plants, and I remember well my first Earth Day (celebrated since 1970. – Ed.), When we planted trees, as well as my teachers, who were then hippie students preaching love of mother nature. But for the first time, I began to think about writing a book about all this, about ten years ago. However, apparently, it was still too early then, besides, at that time I was working on my second book at that time, “Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano." As soon as I completed it, I immediately returned to my previous idea, and it was that very ideal moment to do this work.

In the three years that you did research for this book, what shocked you the most?

You know, I always heard that factories in which people sew clothes around the clock are extremely bad. But I did not even realize how difficult the situation was there until I got to one of them in Bangladesh. It was vile and dangerous, and the workers were exhausted, tired and very young. Just horrific. I also heard that several similar factories that employ illegal immigrants are located in large cities such as Paris, New York and Los Angeles. However, I could not imagine how widespread it is and how easy it is to find them in the same Los Angeles, until I saw it with my own eyes, along with one of the activists protecting the rights of workers. And it turned out that these factories are located right here in the very center of the city. I had never before thought how dirty ordinary cotton was until I plunged into this topic, or, say, I didn’t realize how activists fought for workers' rights and safe working conditions at the end of the 19th century, just like this now. As we say in French: "La plus ça change, le moins ça change (The more things change, the less things change. – Ed.)."

What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing a book?

This was a visit to the survivors of the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which housed round-the-clock clothing factories (the collapse occurred in 2013, more than 1,000 people died as a result of the disaster. – Ed.). It was unbearably hard to see them so wounded and hear their devastating stories. Everyone was crying. Even now, after five years.

In your opinion, what tools can influence the situation more effectively – laws and government programs or changes in consumer behavior?

I believe, first of all, it depends on the buyers – you need to change your consumer habits and require more transparency from brands. We have the power to change the system.

In your book, you write about manual labor as one of the ways to make the fashion industry greener. In Ukraine, just craft is very developed, but, in your opinion, how realistic is it to combine it with modern technologies?

Yes, I believe that the future lies precisely in such a combination of traditional pre-industrial crafts with the digital era of technology – this is our way forward.

It is interesting to hear your opinion about the young activist Greta Tunberg. Do you think street protests can affect the environment?

I think Greta Tunberg is very brave. And yes, I also think that protests have an impact on change.

Can you tell me what your next book will be about?

I admit, I'm very superstitious. Therefore, until I write it, I allow myself to keep this information a secret.

See also: Clothing that is not: How The Fabricant made a digital revolution in the fashion industry

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