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19 August 2011


The alchemy of the contemporary garment industry, turning base fibres into fashion gold and trousering significant profits at the top end of the chain, continues to preoccupy me. Earlier this year, after one-and- a-half decades of deflation in clothing prices, the super-cheap, super-fast fashion juggernaut appeared to have come to a standstill. The reason? The price of cotton went through the roof when Pakistan’s harvests were destroyed by the floods and the cotton crop failed in parts of India.

Almost more than anything, it is cheap cotton, with all its attendant human rights and environmental abuses – read about cotton production abuses in the campaign section of Environmental Justice Foundation’s site, ejfoundation.org, for a refresher course – that has powered this surfeit of cheap clothing. The global cotton trade has provided the engine for the fast, cheap fashion phenomenon described by retailers as a massive goodwill exercise for poor people and an altruistic bid to democratise style – anybody can look like Britney Spears.

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