Tracking Denim’s Impact As It Travels the Globe

In Maxine Bédat’s new book “Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment,” we follow a humble pair of jeans' journey across the globe and look at the fashion industry's impact on the environment.

© Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash
© Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

By Amulya Hiremath on 6.1.21

From Texas to China to Bangladesh, back to the US and further on to Africa, for the better part of two years, sustainable fashion veteran Maxine Bédat followed an American icon: a pair of jeans. Maxine is the founder and director of New Standard Institute, a “think and do tank” with the aim of transforming fashion into a force for good. In her debut book “Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment,” Maxine looks at the world of fashion through a sustainable lens, specifically as it relates to a pair of jeans.

© Penguin Random House
Unraveled, The Life and Death of a Garment
© Maxine Bédat courtesy of Penguin Random House
© Maxine Bédat courtesy of Penguin Random House

Maxine sees the journey in stark contrasts — from the point of view of chemically ravaged soil in Texas cotton farms, but also a farmer incorporating innovative methods of sustainable farming; China’s factories, incredibly fast but also spewing out harmful chemicals into local water bodies; and in Bangladesh, a woman whose family was destroyed due to torrential rains. These are all a part of the industry contributing to climate change. Closer back home, Maxine checks in on how a distribution center works — a key logistically part in actually getting the garment into the consumer’s hands.

© Penguin Random House
© Penguin Random House

In “Unraveled,” Maxine recounts seeing workers trapped in a cycle of low wages and demanding more hours to work, as well as laboring at the speed of the machines which would soon replace them. However, even then, the life cycle of the pair of jeans is incomplete. To see it through to the end, she goes to Africa where used garments find a home either in a closet or in landfill, waiting to go up in flames.

Not merely a journey of a pair of jeans, “Unraveled” puts the fashion industry under the microscope and shows the part each one of us play in it. Though Maxine outlines just how harmful the industry can be, she retains her hope for change and shows us how we can all be a part of that change.

“Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment,” published by Penguin Random House, hits bookshelves June 1 2021. 

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