Reviews & Culture
A new book by Tansy E Hoskins, The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion, gives a Marxist analysis of the fashion industry
By Rena Niamh Smith
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With a comprehensive view, Tansy E Hoskins makes a searing analysis of the fashion industry in The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion.
From the Met Gala to the Rana Plaza factory collapse, Hoskins puts a strong case about the political nature of fashion production, media and consumption. And she firmly places fashion in the context of capitalism with a Marxist analysis of the industry and perceptions of what we wear.
Hoskins builds on her 2014 book, Stitched Up—The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion. She estimates that the new edition is about 60 percent new material—“the same skeleton with brand new flesh on its bones”. Everything from billionaire profits, body image, fossil fuel extraction and consumer responsibility is contextualised within the capitalist system.
Many powerful arguments from the original book still stand. Graphic descriptions of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 expose the terrible working practices of the global fashion supply chain. In the sub-contracting model, major brands can wash their hands of the abuses and exploitation in factories.
In this context, Rana Plaza factory owners threatened workers with loss of a month’s pay if they did not go to work in a building obviously on the brink of collapse. When the cracks in the wall did give way, over 1,000 people were killed. But major high street brands buying indirectly from the factory were not implicated until a worldwide campaign led to agreements on improving practices.
In this edition, Hoskins looks at the limited effect of such accords on systemic change. The struggle for justice in the decade since has seen workers’ resistance, including strikes over, abysmal working conditions—but also government and union-busting crackdowns on their power .
In studying these global practices, Hoskins points out the racist, colonial nature of fashion production. She looks at the pigeon-holing of people into the roles of production in the Global South, and media and creativity in a tiny minority in the major “fashion capitals”. Yet she also questions the stereotype of people in the Global South as passive victims in the system, focusing on union activity and Indigenous fightbacks.
Hoskins is writing in a new era of corporate green-washing. Increasingly, companies are adding the labels of “sustainability” and “responsible sourcing” to certain products or collections. They put the onus on consumers to make the right choices and to shop better .
Hoskins debunks this myth and points the finger firmly at capitalism. And she takes aim at corporations whose quest for profit is at the heart of human and environmental destruction caused by fashion. She points out the holes in the arguments in favour of a “green capitalism ” and the calls for system tweaks and reforms on a dying planet.
Updated material also includes the rise of slash fashion brands such as Boohoo and Shein in the last few years. Their 99p sales have helped to increase the factory-to-landfill pipeline of fast fashion. New buy-now-pay-later schemes, such as Klarna, encourage ever younger consumers to chain themselves to the system through crippling debt.
Yet Hoskins reminds us to reject demonising ordinary people who buy fast fashion, as some activists have been known to do. For Hoskins, it is the system which creates these conditions, which sees luxury labels and fast fashion exploiting people and planet in order to create wealth.
Instead, she argues for nothing short of revolution. In the final chapters, Hoskins explores what resistance looks like in fashion. It ranges from the meaning of individual choices around clothing to the effectiveness of reform through trade union activity and legislation.
But it is in the very last chapter where Hoskins sets out ideas for a fashion industry free from divisions of race, class and gender. It would mean a slower, gentler pace of consumption that allows for workers to democratically decide conditions and production levels—and a radical strategy for reimagining humankind’s relationship with clothing.
- The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion by Tansy E Hoskins (£14.99)