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Jul 17 16 2:31 PM

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(Image: Microcosm Publishing)

"Fast Fashion": Anne Elizabeth Moore on the

Global Garment and Sex Trades


Sunday, 17 July 2016 00:00

By Maya Schenwar (/author/itemlist/user/45138), Truthout | Interview


What links the world of fashion, the international sex and

garment trades, and human trafficking? Anne Elizabeth

Moore and the artists of The Ladydrawers unpick the

connections in a meticulously investigated and vividly

illustrated new book of graphic journalism. Order your

copy of Threadbare: Clothes, Sex and Trafficking by making

a donation to Truthout today!

Anne Elizabeth Moore. (Photo: Microcosm Publishing)

For more than five years, Anne Elizabeth Moore and the Ladydrawers Collective (http://www.truthout.org/ladydrawers

have been creating incisive comics that probe at the intersections  of gender and labor. 

Their just released book, Threadbare, combines art,  storytelling,consciousness building 

 and old fashioned muckraking to expose the connections between the fashion industry and the

sex trade around the world. I caught up with Anne Elizabeth Moore to find out more about the politics of garment work,

the criminalization of sex work, the shady dealings of anti trafficking organizations 

 and the hope of someday abolishing the "fast fashion" industry for good.


Maya Schenwar: Threadbare takes on the fashion industry in a vivid and personal form,

addressing lots of different facets of that industry through interviews with the people

employed within it. How did you and the Ladydrawers Collective decide you wanted to

take on this topic and given the multi facetedness of the focus you've cultivated how

did you determine what "this topic" was?


Anne Elizabeth Moore: When we started doing the [Ladydrawers] series for Truthout, I was pretty

sure there would be a connection between the global sex and garment trades, but I didn't actually know

what it was. I'd been reporting on the garment factories for a few years at that point, so my gut instincts

had been honed, but I hadn't yet found the links between the two labor arenas. So I said there was one

and just hoped, every month, that I could get closer to it.


How Ladydrawers works is, someone proposes a project and then folks get on board with what they

want to do for it, and the proposer sort of manages things and makes sure they get done. So

the Truthout series has been great, because I can kind of rethink some of the ways I've talked about

stuff in my text reporting elsewhere and present slightly more complicated ideas in comics, with the

help of whoever wants to jump in. So this project was led by me and my interests, for sure, and then

when I had a batch of scripts I started approaching the comics creators for illustration work. Some were

excited right away, and others were more like, "I'm not sure how I feel about this but ooooohkaaaaayyy."


Melissa Mendes, who I've gone on to work with on a lot of stuff and is one of my closest

collaborators, was basically like, "Got it." Sometimes it seems like she understands projects we work on

together better than I do.


As the strips that are now collected into Threadbare started to come together comics

that describe the links between the sex and garment trades, largely through anti trafficking

NGOs the series became very exciting. That's when it became clear we were onto something 

new, presenting new sidesof an issue folks have heard about a ton before, but never like this. 

 Like, there's nothing more tired than

complaints about the garment trade. But push those complaints into well argued and illustrated

research that indicates the garment trade is a major if not the most significant contributor

to theglobal gender wage gap? Then you've done something interesting. I think we really felt that, too, as we

were working on this stuff. It became very thrilling, even though the process of comics journalism, and

working in collaboration, can be really exhausting.


What is "fast fashion"? How does this phenomenon affect Truthout readers that

is, thepeople reading this interview?


Fast fashion, based on the premise of fast food, is this idea that there should be readily available, cheaply made

garments on hand for all occasions that look cute but aren't intended to last. Truthout readers and

they've told me this at events or in emails or on social media tend to think that

by not shopping at H&M or Walmart, they're not participating in fast fashion, but what Threadbare shows is

that the changes in the fashion industry have affected all aspects of warehousing, distribution, clothing resale, waste

management and even modeling. Not to mention changes to the textile industry from which clothes are made. So, what we

see is that the problems aren't limited to folks who shop at fast fashion retail stores like H&M; it's really changed the

entire clothing industry, and no one involved in it can claimit's for the better.


When we think of who's exploited by the garment industry, our minds often jump to people (generally,

women) working in factories, but in Threadbare, we see this process of exploitation and disposability 

 playing out at lots of different levels it starts in factories, maybe, but they're certainly not the end of the "line." 

 Can you talk about some of the major issues you encountered at various points in the production line,

and how they intersect with gender?


Although I had known for awhile that models and warehouse workers faced similar challenges to

women in garment factories, when I started talking to those folks, I was shocked by how similar the

problems really are. We're talking about close surveillance of women employees; rampant physical and

sexual abuse; little regard for the needs of those raising children; chronic underpayment, late payment

or withheld payments; no respect for breaks or meal times; and few advancement opportunities. And

these are both very, very physically demanding jobs.


Although what personally affected me was realizing how messy and exploitive the thrift industry end of

the garment trade was I mean, I'm a punk, I've always thrifted what really got me was hearing how

consistently poorly the garment trade, at all stages of production, treats women workers, despite the

fact that they make up the majority of its workforce…. The garment industry, the largest employer of

women worldwide, was clearly created to exploit and abuse women's labor.


When I've talked about this book with people, I mention that it examines the intersections and interactions 

of the garment industry and the sex trade, and they assume it's an "anti trafficking" treatise. Your reporting 

on the sex trade is more complex than that,  and you show how it is tied to clothing production in ways we 

might not expect. Can you say a little bit about those links between the garment and sex trades?


Well, it is complicated, because these are complicated issues. And I am definitely not "protrafficking,"

so it's hard for folks to grasp that, if we reduce global concerns [about] women's labor to questions of

trafficking which the US State Department and many, many NGOs and not for profits would like us to 

we overlook the  much bigger and more profound picture of corporate abuse undertaken by garment producers that 

affects the majority of women around the world.


The through line of Threadbare is that, due to a combination of US trade policies with developing

nations around the world and cultural restrictions on women working outside the home, the garment

industry is the only legal job available to the majority of women in the world. But women are resilient,

and so when there are no other legal job opportunities and the reasons not to work in the sex trade run 

 far deeper than crap pay, long hours, and dangerous working conditions, since sexual assault rates

are pretty high in almost any situation where women's participation is coerced to begin with women

will do what they can to get by on their own, or to feed their kids or whatever. So, where the garment

trade exists, there is generally a healthy sex trade as well, and it's often tolerated or legal until the US

steps in and criminalizes it, often as a rider in trade deals. These are presented as "antitrafficking"

measures, because there is a certain mindset that claims that where there is commercial sex there is

always exploitation, and all exploitation is pretty much trafficking. (In truth, there are vast distinctions

between commercial sex, exploitation, and human trafficking even outside of the fact that most 

human trafficking that happens is in non sexual labor but if we're being generous we can see 

 that people are doing what they think is best.)

 


Anti trafficking measures, of course, require facilities, and these facilities very often arrest women sex

workers and force them into a "rehabilitation" environment where they are trained, often to do the

exact same garment manufacturing jobs they probably left to avoid sexual exploitation, after which they

are released, back, into the garment trade. These facilities are generally funded by garment

manufacturers. To recap: the garment industry supports the arrests of, and finances the supposed

rehabilitation of, women who leave the garment trade, forcing them to return to these lowpaying,

high risk jobs that more often than not include a likelihood of sexual exploitation. This happens all over the

world as a matter of the course of fast fashion.


And I'm supposed to believe that individual bad dudes no matter how many there may be or how

strong their networks are gathering women up in droves and illegally selling them all over the world,

and doing more damage than Nike, H&M, Zara, The Gap, and Walmart combined? Riiiiiight.

What I'm saying is, the whole way that human trafficking is discussed and presented it's

the latest moral panic, as SWOP [Sex Workers Outreach Project] organizer Serpent Libertine explains in the book

supplants any real address of the systemic, corporate abuse of women workers around the globe.

Because the garment industry is one of the primary funders of antitrafficking

initiatives. It's a closed circle.


Is there any way to "opt out" of fast fashion? What would we have to do to simply not

participate in this exploitative industry?


Really, we'd have to abandon all the current laws and international policies that uphold the

international garment trade and start over, from scratch. That's what it will take there's

no reform of such an unhinged system, the entirety of which rests on taking advantage of women who earn, around

the world, only a portion of what men do in the same jobs. Which is also why we must start from

scratch: global wage equity is not possible while current international garment and textile trade policies

are in place. That will take awhile, and I advocate nothing less than getting started on it right away. I'm

tired of all this piddling around.


Obviously, each of us as consumers is not going to revolutionize the fashion universe by

changing our habits so what do you see as a more sustainable and equitable system,

when it comes to the garment industry? (Or can that system not really be imagined,

exactly, from where we're standing? Any way you want to answer this question is fine!)

I already sort of answered this question, so how about I just address the fact that since this will take

awhile, we will have to be patient and make imperfect choices while we gather the resources to abolish

this massive system that keeps women in poverty all over the world. So how do we do that? Well, we

have to make considered choices. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, who likely did

more to enfold anti trafficking measures in trade policies than any other single person, is not going to

aid us in this goal, and I would prefer to have a president who will. I will not donate money to your antitrafficking

fun run because, first of all, I likely know the organization the money's going to, and they

don't offer beds to rescues, so they are fundamentally ineffective andsecond of all, "sex trafficking" is

not the problem. Poverty is.


It may or may not really matter if I shop at a fast fashion retail outlet, but since I know and care about a

lot of the workers that make clothes for certain brands in Cambodia, if I need something I will try to

find Cambodian made goods there. I cannot stress how important it is that they're not stuck inside the

system while it's crumbling. I thrift from not for-profit, reputable thrift stores, otherwise although

god's honest truth I have only purchased three items of clothing since I finished the book. So my

purchasing habits have really, really declined.


I'll continue to field emails from enthusiastic fans and concerned parties around the world, all of whom

ask the same basic question: How do we make this system better for real folks? Well, wanting to make it

better in a genuine way and not thinking you already know how to make it better is a damn good start.

The flood of emails alone makes me hopeful that actually, in my lifetime, I could see this system

abolished.


Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission (mailto:[email protected]).

MAYA SCHENWAR (/AUTHOR/ITEMLIST/USER/45138)

Maya Schenwar is Truthout's editor in chief and the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t

Work and How We Can Do Better (https://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6694/t/17304/shop/item.jsp?

storefront_KEY=661&t=&store_item_KEY=2906). Follow her on Twitter @mayaschenwar

(https://twitter.com/MayaSchenwar).

Previously, she was a senior editor and reporter at Truthout, writing on US defense policy, the criminal justice

system, campaign politics, and immigration reform. Prior to her work at Truthout, Maya was contributing editor

at Punk Planet magazine. She has also written for the Guardian, In These Times, Ms. Magazine, AlterNet, Z

Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Common Dreams, the New Jersey Star-Ledger and others. She also served as a

publicity coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Maya is on the Board of Advisors at Waging

Nonviolence (http://wagingnonviolence.org/).

R

"I would no more be a Master than a slave. It does not conform to my idea of Democracy." Abraham Lincoln 1856.