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