Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking
Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking is a fascinating read, full of disturbing information about the rise of the fast fashion industry and how the apparel trade is related to human trafficking and the jobs women have as options worldwide, especially those living in poverty. Anne Elizabeth Moore has substantially researched and written a series of essays illustrated by the “Ladydrawers Comics Collective” — Leela Corman, Julia Gfrörer, Ellen Lindner, Delia Jean, Melissa Mendes, Simon Hätussle.
Unfortunately, it’s marred by its origins. Threadbare began as a monthly series of comic journalism pieces online. Many of the pages are thus formatted for the landscape-oriented screen. When sized down to fit on book pages, the lettering — particularly Gfrörer’s uniquely styled handwriting — was nearly impossible for me to read in some cases. I was frustrated by wanting to take in every morsel of information here, but I was unable to do so.
The second section really brings this home, since those strips weren’t published digitally. They’re more readable, although there’s still a fondness for tiny fonts that don’t serve middle-aged eyes at all well.
The book is divided into four sections, which are both geographically determined and themed by subject. The US is where readers learn about fashion retail, distribution, and importing; Austria covers male consumers, textile history, and traditional costume; Cambodia is where we see the factories, their need for cheap labor, and worker abuse and exploitation; and the World, which makes explicit the charges that women “rescued” from the sex industry are still being exploited in the garment industry, which pays less than a living wage. Each chapter is followed by a section of endnotes, backing up the statements.
If you’re not familiar with H&M and Forever 21, the opening chapters will be eye-opening, at how cheaply fashion is sold and how quickly items are stocked, changed over, and discarded. It’s to drive more, and more frequent, purchases. Retail clerks are interviewed, as is a former model. By the time I got to the World section, though, I thought things had gotten a bit muddled, trying to make a case for consenting sex work (not all prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, in other words). Perhaps my head was just swimming from all the facts and figures. The book is a better read done in pieces, not all at once.
As I alluded to before, although described as comics, often, the sheer amount of text takes over the panels with the artists resorting to drawing simply faces or background images. Very little additional information is gained from the images, although the format will likely bring this content to the attention of readers who otherwise wouldn’t pay attention. (The publisher provided a review copy.)