Fashion This

To paraphrase a well-known PETA anti-fur campaign, “I’d rather go naked than wear pants made by child laborers inhaling pesticides all day long in fields in Uzbekistan for 38 cents a day.” Though I admit that would be a rather cumbersome bumper sticker.

In Bowling for Columbine, filmmaker Michael Moore mused that it’s never the real villains—the corporate criminals whose actions are devastating to far more people than the “usual suspects”—that the TV cops routinely wrestle to the ground, handcuff and toss in the back of the patrol car under an overdub of reggae music.

If that ever changes and we decide to really get tough on crime, I’d like to participate myself in a “wildest police chase” of another kind: one that screams down New York’s Seventh Avenue and hauls in the moguls of the fashion industry for everything from child endangerment and overuse of pesticides to price gouging.

Oh yeah, and the fashion press, too, for creating a culture of “anorexia chic” among the many young women whose beauty standard is being able to disappear when you turn sideways. And Meryl Streep, for glorifying a real-life Cruella deVille in that awful movie, The Devil Wears Prada, about “the fashion elite.”

I”m glad the fashion industry is starting to green up and show more respect for its minions in the trenches. As with most industries, though, this one expended most of its energy hiding its dark side before caving into pressure to enact reforms. Fashion’s real leading eco-lights are the newer firms motivated not by greed and snobbery but by concerns for ecology and human wellbeing. If high fashion is to win my support, it will need to emulate those examples and do more than introduce a few hemp duds in overstated ad campaigns urging people to take “just one action” (“Buy our clothes!”) and that will save the Earth.

I know I’m not typical, but when I flip through a copy of Vogue I can only think of the poor people who did the dirty work of picking the cotton and sewing the garments and wonder when they”ll ever be able to afford to buy the fruits of their labors themselves.

When questioned about his industry’s reliance on cotton largely handpicked by children in China and India, Cotton, Inc. Executive V.P. Mark Messura’s response (see “Fashion Victims,” page 32) was that his trade association prefers to steer clear of international policy issues: “It’s beyond the scope of our organization. It’s really a part of these cultures and these societies. It’s a larger issue than us.”

Right, but if these countries suddenly refused to sell us their cotton, we’d take certain steps to change that—and then we’d all be going around with “Support our Troops!” patches ironed onto our Izods.

I do have an idea for a new reality TV series, though: We invite some of the six-to-14-year-olds picking cotton and spraying pesticides in the fields of India, Egypt and Uzbekistan to be contestants who compete by telling their stories. Anyone who succeeds in getting so much as a crocodile tear from one of the judges gets to leave their horrific life behind and stay in America. We can call it “Project Run Away!!!”

Oh, wait: But then Lou Dobbs will just want to send them back anyway.