The international clothing trade is generally an unjust place by modern standards. Perhaps your closet is filled with thrift store duds? Unfortunately, you could still be contributing to unequitable treatment of U.S. workers. Think you’re immune to bad retail vibes because you’re ordering garments from overseas non-profits? Not necessarily so, according to “Threadbare: Clothing, Sex, and Trafficking.”
This eye-opening downer (you can handle the truth), by Anne Elizabeth Moore and the Ladydrawers Collective, is a feminist comic book that’s a must-read for the modern consumer. Beginning with a rundown of fast fashion, the model of the never-ending new season clothing collection seen in stores like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara, “Threadbare” uses interviews and first-person accounts to show far-reaching connections from the rack to the lives of the impoverished.
One in seven women worldwide are employed by the fashion industry, according to the book. They include models, sweatshop laborers, and retail clothing employees, some of the same subjects interviewed in “Threadbare.” Another trade many women are employed in globally is sex work. In some countries, the latter pays better than any of the former, and women choose the job that gives them the most opportunity.
The fast fashion industry also exploits an important resource: cheap labor. The garment industry accounts for the bulk of exports in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Haiti. Many garment factories are located in “special economic zones” where safety precautions, labor and human rights laws are suspended. Right here at home, in “foreign trade zones,” U.S. labor law doesn’t have to be followed in garment production. The country’s largest such zone calls Joliet, Illinois, home.
The comic book format for the interviews and stories recounted in “Threadbare” brings these issues to life and eschews a textbook feel. This wide-spanning feminist viewpoint, woven from topics that culminate in the clothing packing stores at the mall, is vital in developing conscious consumerism in the age of globalization.
The information in “Threadbare” can be taken in a few ways. One is to think, “The world is bad and I should feel bad,” end of story. Another is to examine your shopping habits and perspectives on issues like free trade and sex work. The downer option may be initially easier than the second, but it’s unlikely you’d pick up the book if that was your predisposition.