by Jennifer Farley Gordon and Colleen Hill. Bloomsbury, January 2015. 264 p. ill. ISBN 9780857851857 (pbk.), $34.95.
Reviewed September 2015
Carla-Mae Crookendale, Visual Arts Research Librarian, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present, and Future documents the complicated relationship between the fashion industry and the environment from the eighteenth century onward. The fashion industry is known to have a highly damaging impact on the planet. To address this, a growing number of books outline eco-friendly strategies for garment design and production, or showcase designers and companies who make ecological considerations a focus of their business.
The authors of this book, assistant curators of costume and accessories at the Museum of FIT, have chosen instead to establish the context within which the current sustainable fashion movement exists, framing it as a continuum. The authors begin with a past where fabric and clothing were costly, regularly refashioned, handed down, and reused until they deteriorated and continue through the industrial revolution, when innovations in textile manufacturing and the invention of the sewing machine began a trend of increasingly cheaper apparel. Ultimately, they focus on the present, with its consumption of disposable 'fast fashion,' and the attendant environmental/ethical costs in materials, water, and energy, toxic production processes, poor labor practices, and inhumane treatment of animals. The book concludes with interviews highlighting different aspects of contemporary sustainable fashion practice.
The inherent conflicts between cost and accessibility, systems with both positive and negative implications, and creative freedom and responsibility are underscored throughout. Because the scope of the content is quite broad, covering many facets over many decades, each topic is treated as an overview in straightforward language, with an emphasis on the historical factors.
An exhibition on eco-fashion at the FIT Museum inspired this book, and almost all the images are of garments from the FIT Museum collection or installation photos from the exhibit. The illustrations are predominantly black and white with a few color plates in the middle of the book, forcing the reader to flip back and forth. This slim volume's white cover and lightweight paperback binding mean durability will be a concern with regular handling.
For a student audience it might be tough for this title to compete with others that are more visually engaging and offer practical techniques that could potentially be incorporated into their own professional process. It is extensively researched, however, with almost one-fifth of the volume dedicated to notes, bibliography, glossary, and an index, and with several sections offering suggestions for further reading. This book should appeal to students and scholars interested in the intersection of costume and textile history, environmentalism, and consumer culture.