Book Review: Michael Lavergne, Fixing Fashion by Michelle Blanco, November 27 2016, 33 Comments
A Broken System
Most conscious consumers would agree; fashion needs to be fixed. Over the past 600 years, progress has been made in outlawing the unsavory mechanisms propelling this industry forward. While slavery and child labor have been abolished, new problems arise such as forced labor and toxic environmental practices. Michael Lavergne confronts the challenges with fashion’s systemic dilemma in his 2015 book "Fixing Fashion". Lavergne, an ethical supply chain professional and former international sourcing manager at Sara Lee’s apparel division, argues that fixing fashion will require reinvention not a remedy.
“Given that we have allowed global apparel…to evolve into the current mass production modeled monstrosity that it is, turning back the clock now will be no easy thing”, said Lavergne.
History of Abuse
Lavergne dives headfirst into his career ascent in the apparel division of Sara Lee. (Yes, the cake company). At first, he relishes the international experience of working in global trade only to discover the vast damages incurred by careless abuse. He points to fashion’s dubious beginnings in colonialism as the cause of the exploitative system that exists today. Along with cheap labor and materials, Lavergne suggests that key to this broken system is the emotional engineering used by marketers to generate needless consumption. Lavergne cracks into the assessment of the non-government organizations while decrying the failures of international trade agreements such as NAFTA. There is a clear conflict of interest between governments and corporations resulting in little change. He interviews a series of academics, activists, designers and entrepreneurs who all seem to agree that the upheaval of the old system won’t come from the top, but rather from a combination of increased consumer awareness and novel ideas upsetting the current system.
Lavergne’s narrative seems to meander too far off topic at times. Despite the detours into his past achievements, it’s refreshing to hear an activist speak about the structural challenges as well as the the moral challenges of reform. While more could be said about the human cost and dangerous practices used in manufacturing, Lavergne’s approach serves to suggest practical solutions. He discusses the pros and cons of auditing large corporations, as well as the efforts and results of foreign trade agreements. As a supply chain manager he speaks from the torn position of carrying out profit-driven business initiatives while feeling disturbed by the unethical aspects of the business. From this vantage point he is able to speak convincingly about the conflicting interests of auditors, corporations and governments and their failure to successfully coordinate efforts.
Transparency and Technology
Lavergne’s final vague call to action is a bit confusing. He seems to be trying to rouse the masses to “shop better”, and yet his own panel of experts agree that the solution is more nuanced than simply mobilizing an educated buyer. He quotes Francesca Romana Rinaldi, professor and author of “The Responsible Fashion Company” as saying,
“The big change will take place when demand and supply will work in synergy for a better world: the virtuous cycle requires customers that are well informed and demand a better product with a higher transparency of the value chain…”
Rinaldi also suggests that technology could be the catalyst of this change by helping consumers get closer to companies thus creating more transparency. This speaks to the complexity and the responsibility of both the consumers to be informed and businesses to be transparent. According to Lavergne’s experts, change will come through more responsible and open companies and innovative new technologies, as well as from a more conscientious consumer.
Innovators Provide HopeIn the last chapter of "Fixing Fashion", Lavergne’s message shines as he expresses admiration for the innovators reinventing fashion. Reformers have come up with a myriad of new business practices within corporations and at the grassroots levels. Some of these ideas include converting recycled paper into custom fabrics, manufacturing small batches of ethical clothing, pop-up shops for national artisans, green fashion consultancies, and an app connecting young designers to sustainable textiles. Data from organizations such as The New Leaf Green Consultancy in the UK shows a 750% increase in sales for verified eco-friendly products. Change may be small, but it’s happening. Though there is no silver bullet in Lavergne’s book to disarm the current system, the prevailing notion is ever more hopeful. Instead of one, there are infinite solutions limited only by human ingenuity. If left in the hands of capable, empathic human beings, fashion just may stand a chance of being fixed.