“Creativity, compassion and consumption have to learn to go hand in hand.”
I first heard about social entrepreneur Safia Minney and her label People Tree in 2013, when she created a fashion collection in collaboration with actress and activist Emma Watson. At the time I had just started working in Milan’s fashion industry and articles about sustainability had begun appearing in the imported fashion magazines I would purchase at the newsstand.
I had been out of high school for less than a year and was starting to take my first steps in fashion, so I was interested in the topic of fair trade but had not considered it in relation to my consumer habits. Anyway, when the Emma Watson x People Tree came out I bought a white and blue scarf from the collection and along with it came the brand catalogue; I was surprised at how great the clothes look, since when fair trade collections first appeared in the fashion industry most of the garments didn’t look fashionable and were quite plain. This collection by People Tree looked very preppy and vibrant, so that’s what led me to purchase the “Naked Fashion” book. Well, as the years went by, I moved house three or four times and the book always followed, but I didn’t get to read it until about a month ago. I have just finished a Fashion Business specialization course with New York’s Parsons School of Design and most of the course focused on the theme of sustainability and the need for an ethical supply chain, so when I spotted “Naked Fashion” in the fashion corner of my personal library I immediately picked up the book and read it. About time!
Although there are some points in the book where you definitely notice it was written more than ten years ago (the topic of social media is barely mentioned and the book is now out of print, but used copies are still available online), I think most of the themes it deals with are now more relevant than ever. We are living in a post-pandemic era, and climate change issues have gotten worse in the last decade; the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world after the oil industry, social media and influencer sponsorships have led to an era of excessive consumerism, especially fast fashion brands, while most of the clothes end up in landfills and pollute the oceans and the air we breathe. However, we must recognize that there have been significant changes, partly determined by the new generations who are interested in environmental issues; many surveys show that Millennials and Generation Z prefer to buy garments that last longer and are of better quality, also showing a particular interest in second-hand fashion.
Safia Minney’s “Naked Fashion” reflects on the Rana Plaza building accident in Dhaka, Bangladesh; in 2013, the building that housed five garment factories collapsed, killing thousands of factory workers. This tragedy became a symbol of the fashion industry’s negative impact on the planet and the urgent need for sustainability.
Through words and pictures, Minney talks about the benefits of Fair Trade fashion for people and the environment; along with Emma Watson, she guides us into the Bangladesh village of Swallows, where people employed by People Tree live in decent conditions and produce clothes for the eponymous label, favoring handmade over machine-made clothing production, which preserves traditions and makes sure that each garment is unique in telling its own story.
The book is divided into different sections, like vintage fashion, supply chain issues and ethical brands, with interviews to creative directors promoting sustainability, including British designer Vivienne Westwood, Turkish designer Bora Aksu and former CEO of Whistles Jane Shepherdson.
I fell in love with “Naked Fashion” because it has multiple valuable points; it is very educational and you get to envision the need to rebuild humanity in a world which usually chooses profits over people. There are so many inspirational and thought-provoking stories in this book, as many of the interviewed people share their own vision and approach to a more holistic fashion. I really appreciate how it integrated with my Fashion Business course and it got me interested in researching some of the sustainable brands it mentions. While some people may argue that the book tends to focus more on People Tree than other sustainable and eco-friendly brands, writer Safia Minney is the CEO of People Tree, a Fair Trade fashion pioneer since its establishment in 1991, so her brand is the one which set an example for other fashion designers and brands alike.
OTHER BOOKS YOU MAY LIKE: Non-fiction books by writer and activist Naomi Klein are the first ones I can think of, mainly “No Logo: Taking Aim At The Brand Bullies” and “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate”. You can also check out Zerrin.com’s article “29 Inspiring Books On Sustainable Fashion” because the list includes many titles on the matter. I am particularly interested in reading other books by Safia Minney, such as “Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics” and “Slave To Fashion”. I also plan to read “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and The Future of Clothes” by Dana Thomas.
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