Tansy Hoskins, a British writer, journalist and activist, is the author of the book Stitched-Up: The Anti-capitalist Book of Fashion, whose Croatian translation was recently published by Sandorf&Mizantrop and CIMO – Center for research of fashion and clothing.
In the book, which presents a research and criticism of the contemporary fashion system, Hoskins insists that fashion is social production and that ignoring this fact leads to its mystification. But, according to Ankica Čakardić, one of the book's reviewers, there is absolutely nothing particularly romantic about fashion.
In December 2015 Hoskins visited Zagreb, were she gave two talks (one at Green Action and one at the Faculty of Textile Technology). As the translator, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Tansy, a gracious and truly socially engaged person, as well as her mom Kay, an inveterate hippy who kept her daughter company and tried to convince me to visit Bristol.
What was the motivation behind writing Stitched Up? To what extent did your personal experiences influence the choice of topics?
Stitched Up is both a very global book and a personal project which I wanted to write because I was looking for answers and couldn’t find them anywhere. I wanted Stitched Up to confront the issues in fashion I was concerned about – from workers rights and the environment to racism and cultural appropriation, from the eating disorders I have watched friends fight, to the desire within people to consume clothes that is like a black hole that can never be filled.
How do you define fashion? Why did you decide to discuss high and street fashion side by side?
I define fashion as "changing modes of dress worn by groups of people". But Stitched Up also puts fashion very much in the material, industrial, world and defines it as a deregulated, subcontracted industry that is reliant on selling billions of purposefully short life units.
The wall between high fashion and high street fashion has crumbled, budget brands now hold fashion shows at fashion weeks and so called ‘luxury’ brands make much of their products from selling keyrings, belts and perfume rather than couture.
You say that fashion is capitalism's favorite child. Could you expand on that? Can fashion be seen as a symptom of capitalism?
Simply put, the central premise of Stitched Up is “capitalism’s bad”. Writing Stitched Up was a quest to answer questions about fashion’s crimes – from workers being crushed to death and shot dead, to staggering environmental pollution, to the racism of the industry, and the pressure on women to fixate on and hate their bodies. As well as showing what is happening I also wanted to go into why it is happening. To shine a light onto the systemic compulsions of the fashion industry that drive wages down, that minimize environmental consciousness and which create a myriad of ridiculous products that we do not need. Capitalism’s drive to profit is inescapable to the point that it supersedes everything, including good intentions. Having an anti-capitalist perspective was very important to me. I wanted to name capitalism as the causal link to all of these issues.
In the book you talk about "ethical" fashion, which was also the topic of your talk at the Faculty of Textile Technology in Zagreb. Can you tell us more about the concept itself and whether such a thing can really exist within capitalism?
After twenty years the ethical fashion market is tiny – about 1% of global production and sales. It is currently competing with the fast fashion model which produces garments with very low price tags, in this climate and with the global financial crisis having shrunk people’s disposable income, ethical fashion faces a real uphill struggle. Ethical fashion labels can be innovative in terms of technology and in showing people that fashion need not involve cruelty, but they are not a way out of the mess that we are in. For that we need systemic change.
When I finished reading the book, I lost all desire for shopping. I may have regained that desire now, but I still feel somewhat uneasy buying clothes from corporations you discuss in the book (e.g. Inditex). To what extent, if at all, can we as individual consumers influence the state of the industry?
I hope Stitched Up inspires people to want to change the world. There are hundreds of groups, Trade Unions and campaigns to get involved in around fashion justice. People should choose the issues they care most about and take the step of getting stuck in.
A key part of Stitched Up is challenging the idea that we can buy justice. Changing our shopping habits is not enough. Capitalism teaches us that empowerment comes from acting independently (not collectively), that freedom means variety in what we consume, and that we should trust in the system and shop (not fight) our way to a new world. A narrative that teaches that corporations can be tamed by consumer spending and be made ‘ethical’. It’s a rhetoric of democracy acting as a screen for exploitation.
Individual shopping choices will not change the world, instead we must build social movements powerful enough to create a new kind of world. That above all is what I hope people will understand.
The final three chapters of the book offer a glimmer of optimism by describing potential sites of resistance and imagining a post-capitalist society in which fashion as we know it would no longer exist. Would our clothes in such a society look depressingly uniform, as depicted by so many films (both utopian and dystopian) set in the future?
Definitely not! We need to talk about overhauling the fashion industry because it would be incredibly exciting in terms of innovation and design. Right now, 99.9% of fashion is mind-numbingly dull because design dominated by the market is by definition boring. Imagine a fashion industry not on lock-down by a bunch of white male European shareholders, imagine an industry not stifled by tedious discriminatory rules about gender, sexuality and race. I would love to see the democratisation of fashion and the explosion of creativity that would follow. It would be fabulous!
What are you working on at the moment? What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I am completing my MA in Broadcast Journalism. My plan is to learn new ways to document the stories of exploitation in the fashion industry. Hopefully in the future I can bring people radio and TV interviews that show the reality of the industry – as well as another book.