Longlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award
A groundbreaking chronicle of the birth--and death--of a pair of jeans, that exposes the fractures in our global supply chains, and our relationships to each other, ourselves, and the planet
Take a look at your favorite pair of jeans. Maybe you bought them on Amazon or the Gap; maybe the tag says "Made in Bangladesh" or "Made in Sri Lanka." But do you know where they really came from, how many thousands of miles they crossed, or the number of hands who picked, spun, wove, dyed, packaged, shipped, and sold them to get to you? The fashion industry operates with radical opacity, and it's only getting worse to disguise countless environmental and labor abuses. It epitomizes the ravages inherent in the global economy, and all in the name of ensuring that we keep buying more while thinking less about its real cost.
In Unraveled, entrepreneur, researcher, and advocate Maxine Bédat follows the life of an American icon--a pair of jeans--to reveal what really happens to give us our clothes. We visit a Texas cotton farm figuring out how to thrive without relying on fertilizers that poison the earth. Inside dyeing and weaving factories in China, where chemicals that are banned in the West slosh on factory floors and drain into waterways used to irrigate local family farms. Sewing floors in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are crammed with women working for illegally low wages to produce garments as efficiently as machines. Back in America, our jeans get stowed, picked, and shipped out by Amazon warehouse workers pressed to be as quick as the robots primed to replace them. Finally, those jeans we had to have get sent to landfills--or, if they've been "donated," shipped back around the world to Africa, where they're sold for pennies in secondhand markets or buried and burned in mountains of garbage.
A sprawling, deeply researched, and provocative tour-de-force, Unraveled is not just the story of a pair of pants, but also the story of our global economy and our role in it. Told with piercing insight and unprecedented reporting, Unraveled challenges us to use our relationship with our jeans--and all that we wear--to reclaim our central role as citizens to refashion a society in which all people can thrive and preserve the planet for generations to come.
B dat, founder of the New Standard Institute, traces the life cycle of an average pair of jeans "from farm to landfill" in this rich expos of the fast fashion industry. In Texas, where roughly half of all U.S. cotton is produced, B dat discusses the financial risks that come with growing cotton organically, rather than relying on synthetic chemicals, genetically modified seeds, and other "conventional" methods, and details the historical links between the cotton industry and slavery. Posing as a denim buyer, B dat visits a "wash house" in Guangdong, China, where she sees unprotected workers spraying a toxic "denim fading agent" on jeans and effluents from the treatment process draining into a nearby river. B dat also discusses how the "trend-based aesthetic of celebrity/influencer culture" has contributed to the rise of disposable fashion, and points out that "wearing a garment twice as long would lower greenhouse gas emissions from clothing by 44%." In Ghana, she documents how the flood of cheap, used clothing from the U.S. weakens the local textile industry. Though B dat occasionally loses the thread of her arguments amid the copious details, she gives a well-rounded portrait of the hazards posed by fast fashion. Readers will think twice before buying their next pair of jeans.