Elevate Difference

Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade

Name-dropping Bono in the first chapter of a book about global trade is not a way to win the trust of activists and critical analysts. For me, it can signal anything from blatant ignorance to a writer’s weak attempt at attaining pop culture credibility. I wanted to give Fugitive Denim a chance, despite its hokey name, but when the confusing analogies began immediately, I felt like I was reading a novel penned by a tenth grade English teacher, who was trying way too hard to make me like her. Instead of an inspiring tale detailing the pain, complications, and changes being made to overcome the problems that globalization has brought to developing countries (and subsequently, the developed world), this fluffy book winds around a dozen issues, never focusing or properly addressing the topics at hand. Maybe it should be expected that in tackling such a difficult, wide-ranging subject, a writer would be more familiar with the issues and have a better ability to document them. In this case, while I do respect the author’s attempt at telling a complicated story, the effort falls painfully short.

The problem with Fugitive Denim is that in trying to seem unbiased, writer Rachel Louise Snyder makes it impossible for her audience to determine her stance on issues, and thereby makes her intentions (not to mention her narrative) muddled. While impartial journalism is ideal, we all know it is rarely executed. When it comes to dissecting trade from a bottom-up framework, why bother? In what appears to be an attempt to balance the arguments and show that everyone is hurting under new global trade laws, after hanging out in a few far-flung villages, Snyder interviews designers at Gucci and Prada about their plight as well. Perhaps this is meant to explain that problems with quotas and trade agreements effect everyone on the food chain, but this tactic is instead wildly insulting and naïve. Why do I care if Dolce and Gabbana have problems keeping up their profits? Their concerns about the legitimacy of “Made in Italy” labels? Are you kidding me?

Snyder does provide a lot of interesting footnotes and details much of the inner workings of the textile industry in her travels. One of her most important contributions is shining a light on the rail-thin, stoop-shouldered women who pick the cotton that becomes our jeans. An American based in Cambodia, Snyder seems well aware of gender inequity that surrounds the often-secretive garment industry. Environmental issues are also a key concern in this narrative, and I do applaud these efforts, but all of this great information gets lost in the shuffle of random catchphrases and puns I honestly didn’t understand.

I think for the right person, this might be a great primer on global trade and the textile and apparel industry. I found Snyder’s confused-genre book too murky with scattered details and misplaced metaphors, struggling to find its footing on a rocky path between villages. Maybe I’m a hater, but I just can’t get behind a glossy, MTV version of the hows and whys of globalization.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, February 10th 2008