Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Weekly Dig: Green is the new blegh

Unfortunately for me and the author of"Green is the New Black", the book I reviewed for Greenland this week, I hated every page of it. It was absolutely awful. After having gone through the book writing and editing process, I can only conclude that the editor of Blanchard's book must have either hated or feared her, because it's full of errors, nonsensical ellipses, non sequiturs, and rambling offshoots into Blanchard's personal life that have little to do with saving the planet. I don't know what I expected from a writer who uses the word "fashionista" without irony, but what I got was extremely irritated.

The published review is here, but unfortunately for me and the Dig readers, it also received a less than careful treatment in the editing process. So I'll print the uncut (albeit even more rant-y) version here:

Green is the New Blegh

When it comes to the environment, what you wear is nearly as important as what you eat. The pesticides that soak conventional cottons are as harmful to farmers as the pesticides that seep into the ground on conventional lettuce farms. The labor conditions under which fast-fashion clothing is produced overseas are often deplorable. The implications of highly disposable, cheap sweaters which will sojourn only briefly in your closet before spending the next few millennia not biodegrading in a landfill are as daunting as the ones we face daily every time we choose (or don’t choose) to eat a Big Mac wrapped in cardboard.

So why, asks Brit fashion writer Tamsin Blanchard, author of “Green is the New Black”, aren’t we doing more about it?

The reason is, partly, writers like Tamsin Blanchard.

It’s apparent from her badly-edited, sloppily turned-out “guide” to eco-consumerism that fashion writers like Blanchard, who’s worked the style beat for several leading London publications, still believe that “fashionistas” to be strongarmed into caring about the environment. That they don’t truck in measured, devastating arguments like the “foodies” who read Michael Pollan. That any innate curiosity or concern they might have about the origins of their clothing is likely to be eclipsed by their need for omigod shoes. That they’ll be able to sort through Blanchard’s self-indulgent, blowsy rambling to find the useful nuggets of information that the writer does present in her guide, such as pointing out that even mainstream chains like H&M and American Apparel feature organic cotton lines that are better than the less responsible alternative, or that UK company People Tree may actually have a workable model for Fair Trade, sustainable fashion.

What fashionistas need, it seems, is for a high-ranking insider to teach them about a new concept called “vintage” and to reassure them that it’s, like, totally posh to shop at “charity stores” and to buy hemp-based clothing from Marks & Spencer without becoming a “hippy-dippy”. (Did we mention this book is all in Brit-speak?)

Sigh. Is it any wonder that kids today have turned to those newfangled weblogs for real, useful information?

We recommend recycling your copy of “Green is the New Black” and turning to the paperless resource of IdealBite instead, which will deliver daily tips with links to products you can use, written in a style that non-fashionistas can read without retching on their “hippy-dippy” vegan fair trade shoes.

This was the first time in a long time that I've written something so unabashedly negative -- but you know what? It felt good. Some people see green and they don't think "saving the planet" -- they think "lining my pockets by jumping on this trend". Blanchard has come on the green scene and attempted to make a quick buck by purporting to tell environmental "fashionistas" what they already know (that vintage is green, that organic and bamboo-based materials are the way of the future, that we need to buy less and think more about our purchases).

Blanchard has also proven something about the fashion world that "fashionistas" need to know, and to fix: that the high rollers of the fashion world are becoming increasingly disconnected from the people they clothe and from the people who work for them all over the world. For example, this comment from Anna Wintour: "I see a lot of people in my industry who are over-reacting. Stores that are over-discounting, designers who are creating collections for the price and what sells rather than to reflect who they are." Replies, "It takes a special understanding of the world — wasn't the Dow just below 8,000? And aren't advertising pages in this month's Vogue down 22% compared with last December's issue? — to frame the fashion industry's biggest problem right now as charging too little for its wares."

Even luxury conoisseurs are feeling a little ashamed of buying bling these days, but that emotion is not in the best interests of fashion magazines, which thrive on luxury ads -- so with tastemakers like Wintour wielding the whip, the consuming must go on, even when it makes no sense to the consumers themselves. The devil wears Prada, indeed.

While the luxury fashion world's "let them eat cake" attitude may infuriate the actual thrift shoppers among us, my feelings about this go beyond sour grapes to real moral outrage. As long as this reality-be-damned luxury continues to be defended, encouraged and even lauded by magazines like Vogue and Elle (and breezily passed over by the likes of Blanchard), the fashion world as it stands will continue to contribute to greater poverty and environmental degradation worldwide in the years to come while calling it "art". I doubt there's a designer or a consumer among us who would be willing to argue that authenticity and environmental responsibility are mutually exclusive, so let's get real. It's time to acknowledge that clothes are a commodity as well as an "art form", and their production needs to be managed more carefully and with greater conscience.

Unfortunately, Blanchard does not tackle this topic, or many others of substance. Like Bush, she simply tells us to shop to solve the world's problems, albeit in the Marks & Spencer organic section. It's not good enough. Blanchard's book is lazy, indulgent, and worst of all, not useful. I sincerely hope that she makes very little profit from her book sales -- because those books will most certainly all end up in the trash, which will only make the problem worse. Blegh!

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