Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Overdressed - review

Reviews of Elizabeth Cline's "Overdressed - the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion" has been springing up all over the internet, read Solanahs here, or Peter's, or Trena's. A book that looks inside the fashion industry in search for answers about our fashion-comsumption? Yes, please! I started reading, all excited about the many new and mind-boggling truths and ideas that would be presented to me. I found the correlation between cheap fashion getting cheaper and high fashion getting even more expensive intriguing. I loved the detailing of what happens with our garments when we donate them to charity. But overall... It's wellwritten. It's interesting. However, the major question of the book seems to be: Why is the fast fashion industry bad? The answer is roughly divided into:

-Labour. Cheap fashion demands cheap labour, and in search of this cheap labour production moved outside USA, leading to huge unemployment in the US garment industry. Cheap labour abroad is payed way too low, often living on the verge of starvation and working under slavelike and sometimes dangerous conditions.
-Pollution and overuse of the worlds resources. From the growth of the cotton or the refinement of oil that begins the production of our clothes, through dyeing, transportation, electricity to run looms and sewing machines to the final dispense of the discarded garments, fast fashion is an ecological disaster.
-Quality. Cheap means fast and lighter. Fast means less construcion, less interesting details, less variation and poorer executed sewing. Lighter fabrics often means less sturdy and lasting clothes. Low quality leads to short lifespan for garments, meaning low afterlifevalue for our clothes even as "rags".

Cline ends with suggesting a couple of solutions: homesewing, ecological and sustainable materials, and the return to mending, altering and fitting clothes either ourselvs or pay a dressmaker to do it for us.

Of course I agree with all of Clines comments, with her feeling towards the industry and her solutions. So why am I not smitten with this book? For two reasons.

The first: Facts.
Although Cline points out some intersting tidbits, and some of the information was new to me, the overall knowledge was something I had figured out years ago. The correlation between low price, low quality and low living standard for the workers seemed a given to me in my teens. I was waiting the whole book for what would be "shocking" about the cost of high fashion. I was far from shocked at any time during my read.

Second reason: Argumentation, or lack thereof.
Maybe I've read too many academic texts. Maybe the problem is that even the popular science I've read has been written by scientists active in the academic field. But still, I miss the basic "problem - question - discussion" first introduced to me by my high school teacher in Swedish. There's no question. No "red thread". No discussion about a potential answer to the inquery (as there is no question asked to this text). There is no "why?" and no argumentation above "Fast fashion is bad because..." Maybe this kind of book doesn't need it, but I would have liked the text to take it to the next level.

It's not a bad or insignificant book. I'm sure that for many this book might be a wake-up call, but for those  already awake it might be a lot of stating the obvious. It's wellwritten, but don't expect a text at an academic or even popular science level. All in all, I don't consider it a waste of money nor time, but I have to conclude that it offered me very little new, and it was not a very satisfying reading experience. I think it's safe to say that I might not be the type of reader the book targets to.

One problem I can see is this: if I'm not a target reader, then who would be? Someone who has never once considered why their H&M t-shirt is so cheap? Perhaps. Would they buy this book? Doubtful. Only way - at least in Sweden - to be oblivious of the origin of your cheap clothes is to voluntarily and purposedly have equipped yourself with blinders. Those blinders would undoubtfully be just as good at blocking out this book as it is at blocking out all other information of the clothing industry's danger to people and enviroment.

To conclude, it's a good book that runs the risk of preaching only to the already saved, without giving them anything new to consider. I'd recommend it primarily to someone who aspires to shop sustainable and would like some help and motivation to resist that cheap H&M dress, or that roll of really cheap cotton jersey... But then again, I did enjoy it, so if you find the subject at all interesting, it's still worth a read, even if you've already turned away from fast fashion =)



Eurielle said...

thank you for your review of the book.
I've heard about it but it seemed to me as a lot of buzz about hackneyed thoughts.
It was good to read a non-american take on the book.


Anna | Mormor hade stil said...

Jag har inte läst boken, men skulle gärna vilja. Anledningen att det dröjt är väl ungefär det du beskriver: jag vet redan det som står i boken.

Däremot tror jag att du har en lite optimistisk syn på gemene svensks insyn i konfektionsindustrin. Bland mina vänner och bekanta är det fortfarande överraskande få som förstår vilken miljöpåverkan deras klädkonsumtion orsakar, och under vilka villkor kläderna produceras. Nog finns det mer än gott om svenskar som skulle behöva sätta sig in i problematiken mer. :-)

Erika said...

Eurielle, you are most welcome! I think my reaction might indeed be a bit different from others due to my non-US starting point of view. Like I said, it's still an interesting book!

Anna; Jo, det mesta kändes som väldigt givna saker. Lite nytt, men mest i stil med att jag fått några nya "Visste du om att...". Lite intressant, men inte så mycket mer.
Lol! Jag brukar kunna anklagas för att vara optimist =) Det är fullt möjligt att jag är det även här. Det som jag tror är att någonstans så inser de flesta att billiga kläder = någon någonstans får väldigt lite betalt för att sy detta. Det har ju varit så mycket skriverier om barnarbete i Indien, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc. Det som jag tror är att många utrustar sig själva med skygglappar genom att inte läsa om det, inte ta in det, inte förstå eller veta för att man inte vill förstå eller veta. Allt för att skydda sig från dåligt samvete. Visst, dessa skulle behöva läsa denna bok, men jag tror som sagt att det tyvärr inte skulle falla dem in =( Sen finns det såklart de som tänker ekologiskt i mycket annat och som faktiskt kanske skulle kunna ta till sig av den här boken =)