8 Must-Read Books on Where Our Clothes Come From

What's better than starting off 2017 (or killing time on the subway) with a good book. Whether you're just beginning to learn about the fast fashion industry and adopting more conscious consumption habits for the new year or you're a sustainable fashion expert, these reads are sure to teach, surprise, and entertain you.

 
 

Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline

Though this isn't the most in-depth book about the fast fashion industry, it's a quick read and a great introductory piece for those who are unfamiliar with the industry's problems. Cline presents many surprising facts - like that only 20% of clothes we donate are sold in charity shops - and explores the our evolution of our consumption habits. Ultimately she mentions sewing, upcyling, and swapping, as well as supporting fair trade companies, as steps that consumers can take to influence the industry. However, Overdressed fails to take a complex look at the systematic shifts in group, rather than individual, behavior that must happen before true reform occurs, leaving the reader understanding the why but questioning the how.

 
 

To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? By Lucy Siegle

Similar to Overdressed (and published a year before), To Die For addresses the problems with the fast fashion industry, but delves more deeply into environmental aspects with chapters like 'Fashion's Footprint' and 'Picking at Cotton.' Like Cline, Siegle suggests putting together 'The Perfect Wardrobe,' which includes supporting middle market brands, buying slower, buying vintage, thrifting, mending, etcetera, but she also calls on the government to implement and uphold labor and other regulatory laws. Getting your hands on a copy of this may be hard since it's a UK book - we got ours used - but if you can find it, it's definitely worth a read.

 
 

The Travels of A T-Shirt in the Global Economy By Pietra Rivoli

This book is unique because it is from the perspective of an economist rather than a journalist. In the intro of the first edition, Rivoli explains that she was introduced to the sustainable fashion movement by a group of student activists at Georgetown when she was a professor there. Skeptical of their antics she began doing research herself and realized how real issues in the fashion industry are. By exploring the influence of subsidies, the New Deal, the Multifiber Agreement, and free trade zones, her approach uniquely political.

 
 

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America By David Von Drehle

A gripping account of the largest garment factory disaster in America, this book makes us think about America's early twentieth century environment in comparison to the environment in third world countries today where disasters like the Rana Plaza factory collapse are occurring. Though twentieth century America and modern day Bangladesh are worlds apart, this book makes us question the power of unionization, role of government, and impact of war in reform movements, and if similar tactics would even be possible in today's environment.

 
 

Adorned in Dreams By Elizabeth Wilson

This book may not directly be related to sustainable fashion, but its themes mirror the questions we ask about fashion today. Is fashion democratic? How can fashion be both beautiful and desirable and irrational and wasteful? Wilson explores these questions as well as explores how methods of production have evolved and how, with them, our consumption practices have evolved, stating that, in the modern world, "consumerism has become a compulsive form of behavior over which we have little conscious control."

 
 

The Responsible Company By Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley

Co-written by the founder of Patagonia, this book reminds us that as businesses and as people we can't make zero impact, but we can work as hard as we can to minimize our impact. It explores how the current industry model is unsustainable, and to combat this me must work to create shared value, hold ourselves accountable for our actions, and focus on the triple bottom line (social health, the planet, and profit). If you want a fast and inspiring read, pick this book. 

 
 

Behind the Label: Inequality in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry By Edna Bonacich and Richard P. Appelbaum

This book may have been published in 2000, but it is still a great reminder that sweatshops don't just occur overseas. Looking into the Los Angeles garment industry, Bonacich and Appelbaum explore both the immigrant workforce that is exploited by low-wage garment work in America and the global, flexible production that contributes to the race to the bottom, questioning how American factories can gain a competitive advantage in a system that continues to favor cheap (and often illegal) labor.

 
eco fashion sass brown
 

Eco Fashion by Sass Brown

If you love beautiful pictures, this book's for you! Sass Brown breaks the eco fashion world down into bite-size pieces, explaining groundbreaking innovations in eco-fashion throughout the world by looking at individual designs and designers. Through this book, Brown proves that good design doesn't have to be couture and it doesn't have to be boring!

Moral of the Story: Trying something new can be as easy as picking up a good book - and these books will leave a lasting impact.