Threadbare: Clothes, Sex and Trafficking by Anne Elizabeth Moore and The Ladydrawers
Microcosm Publishing. 10th May 2016. ISBN: 978-1-62106-739-9. Price: $13.95
Reviewed by Harriet Earle
As I write this review, I am acutely aware of my clothing. Not the items specifically as much as the fact that almost everything I’m wearing came from a high street store and cost very little. This is not something I have concerned myself with much in the past but after reading Threadbare: Clothes, Sex and Trafficking, a brilliantly constructed report on ‘the connections between the global fashion and sex trades’ I have found myself rethinking my previous stance on fashion. In this comic, Moore spotlights the complex and far-reaching relationship between these two markets to create a comic that is dense and informative without being dull or confusing. The result is a text that not only informs the reader of the relationship between fashion (especially ‘fast fashion’ – cheap, mass produced clothing that is taking the global market by storm) and the international sex and trafficking trades but also provides nuanced, personal stories from women whose lives are directly affected by the issues at hand. The combination of astute research and intensely personal artistic styles is what makes this book. This is no ordinary comic: this is a manifesto.
From the outset we are faced with some harsh truths: the world of fashion has changed drastically over the past century and is still in flux. In the US, the average woman buys 68 items of clothing per year. One in seven women worldwide is employed in the garment industry. Shop staff are paid low wages with little to no security or benefits; models are routinely encouraged to diet excessively and are often forced into situations they are not comfortable with; garment factory workers face long hours, minimal pay and all manner of horrific abuses. Threadbare is open and honest about these facts; it encourages the reader to contemplate them, not just as abstract statistics but through vignettes with individual representatives of each part of the sprawling international garments industry. Moore is not rehashing someone else’s research – this is all her own work, complete with notes and references. She directly engages with her subjects and it shows. She exists within her own comics as a guiding voice, if not visible character, through the agenda that each short strip sets up and the focussed way it plays out.
The Ladydrawers, an ‘unofficially affiliated group’ of artists that ‘researches, performs and publishes comics and texts about how economics, race, sexuality, and gender impact the comics industry, other media, and our culture at large’. Their artwork is raw and curiously coloured; the majority of the strips rely on black line work, highlighted by shades of orange, red and pink. Each artist has a distinct style and their individuality lends the particular narratives a flavour all their own. The narrating head and shoulders sketches of model Sarah Meier in ‘Model Employee’, drawn by Delia Jean, floats throughout a series of flashbacks to her own story and imagined meetings in other people’s. In contrast, Melissa Mendes’ cool and impersonal industrial landscapes illustrate the stark reality of how zoning laws are manipulated by the garment industry to keep both merchandise and labour cheap.
Threadbare is an incredibly wordy comic; though pocket-sized, the amount of information contained within requires several readings to fully digest. Moving from the USA to Austria to Cambodia and then to a world-wide view, the reader is faced with page after page of uncomfortable truths about an industry that is seemingly ubiquitous and that the vast majority of us are interacting with on numerous levels. The final short comic of the collection, ‘The Connecting Threads’, asks us to consider everything that Threadbare has already laid out, recapping statistics and offering its rallying cry: ditch the mall, advocate for a living wage in the garment industry and make a change. As difficult as this may be – fast fashion is a staple of many of our wardrobes and remains so because of its affordability and omnipresence – there is no doubt that Moore and her artistic collaborators are correct. The only way to make a difference is to take a stand. And, thanks to Threadbare, I will be doing just that.