“A blazing polemic against both the exploitation and injustice of the fashion industry and the cynical manipulation of consumer culture as a whole, Barber’s vital book is a clarion call for fundamental change in how we live our lives.”
I was drawn to this book in the January Waterstones sale because I like Aja Barber and for the past couple of years I’ve been trying to cut ties with fast fashion, so I was glad to find a book that could help me along this journey. I love clothes and now mostly buy secondhand, but that hasn’t healed my relationship with consuming (neither has bookstagram lol), it’s just another way to justify buying more stuff. The thing I love about Aja Barber is that she places emphasis on the psychology of why we over consume (often because of insecurities or a feeling that we lack something), rather than ways we can consume better since that doesn’t solve the root-cause of the problem. Ultimately, it’s better to love what you already own, rather than buy copious things you don’t need from more ‘sustainable’ sources.
Consumed is a good read for people at the start of this journey. It felt like reading a series of Instagram captions which I think will appeal to people who want a readable overview of the issues of fast fashion. This book also does a great job at representing minority interests, from the exploitation of garment workers, to unpaid fashion interns and the industry’s lack of access to working class people. It’s easy to separate ourselves from what’s going on in other parts of the world, but through lining the pockets of billionaires, we are contributing to modern-day slavery and wealth inequalities. As Barber writes, “the idea that you can have a corporation in one country which manufactures halfway across the world because this improves its’ profit margins, but does not help raise the vast majority of folks who work for it out of poverty, means that the most powerless are still being the most exploited.” While some argue that the industry services those communities by giving people jobs, the system is unsafe and corrupt, designed to keep workers in poverty while allowing corporations to become richer.
Although this book raises many important discussions, I wished instead it focused on less and explored each in more detail. I think it would have benefited from a better edit because I quite often felt that points were repeated and I believe that’s down to the structure of the book which went back and forth a lot. Of course, there are overlaps between the fashion industry as somewhere to work and the environmental impact - both are exploitative - but I think they needed distinct sections because they are inherently separate issues. I wanted footnotes, sources, more facts and case studies. From an educational perspective, even if reading this book as an introduction to consumerism, it would be useful for readers to have solid examples to absorb more of the information.
So, I would recommend Consumed, especially if you’re interested to read about the intersection of capitalism, race and class, but I do think there are probably better books out there on consumerism and its impact on the world.