Magnifeco by Kate Black, a sustainable fashion blogger behind the style blog of the same name, is … a lot. It is everything. It is all the issues surrounding sustainable and ethical fashion, meticulously researched and laid bare for you to read in a dense tome. And at times, even for a seasoned cynic like me, the information inside can be overwhelming.
But like anything worth doing, the work is worth the reward. Especially if you have been asking yourself how you can stop contributing to pollution and labor exploitation through your purchase of clothing. This contains all the answers in one handy spot. I have to tip my hat to Black for so diligently gathering up all this information and presenting it to us in a friendly manner – I can only imagine how much work and research she put into this book.
Black could have broken down the information into chapters several ways (type of textile, dying, manufacturing practices, perhaps), but chose to do so by type of fashion: beauty, clothing, special occasions, jewelry, outerwear, underwear, footwear, handbags, and the caring of your fashion – a format that works well. She teaches you about the overall landscape of each category, what to look for, as well as the drawbacks and pitfalls. I like that she is objective about leather versus vegan options, both of which have drawbacks. She is a trustworthy voice. Comprehensive and written in an accessible style, consider this book the layman’s textbook for making ethical and sustainable decisions when trying to armor yourself in fashion that doesn’t contradict your values.
But that very comprehensiveness can mean it is some hard work to get all the way through. Much of the information I already knew, being a voracious reader of news and blogs, but I still had moments of, “Man, that is happening, too?” “Crap, I can’t buy that now, either?” (Bye, vegetable tanned leather? Say it ain’t so.) Yep, the world of conventional fashion can be a real drag, once you know what really goes on. It’s full of nuance and contradiction and secrets that will frustrate you and piss you off. Like I said, you need to keep an open mind when you’re reading this, and carve out some time for self-care and long walks, so you can process what you’ll learn.
Black tries to ease your transition into sustainable fashion by listing out some of the biggest players in the sustainable fashion field in each chapter so you can go shopping. But another drawback to the book, at least in my view, is that Black is agnostic when it comes to design. I found myself looking up her recommendations for brands I hadn’t heard of before, and about half of the time being disappointed with the aesthetic. (You will never convince me to buy a bag made of soda pop tops. NEVER.)
What follows is a rub on the larger sustainable fashion movement, not just the book. I think this hearts-and-flowers approach to sustainable design, where we heap praise on every sustainable fashion label, no matter how unattractive it is, does a disservice to the brands who are doing beautiful things. The more blogs show off the crunchy stuff, extolling it as so chic when most of us know better, the more savvy women walk away thinking, boy, sustainable fashion sure is ugly. I would guess that fewer people will buy this book because of the cluttered cover, which is in such opposition to the minimalist style of today that ethical fashion lovers are chasing after. I would have liked to see this book sheath some very hard facts inside some beautiful things, to do some curating to show the best examples, so more readers would be suckered into making the switch. That’s a missed opportunity.
Finally, and this is by no means Black’s fault, the world of sustainable fashion – and fashion in general – moves so fast that some information has already gone out of date. For example, she talks about Puma’s sustainable program, which was recently discontinued. More research is coming out all the time about sustainable and ethical fashion issues, so this book risks becoming obsolete within a year. Which, I think, is all the more reason to buy and read it now.
So my overall review is this: If you are looking for some beach reading, this probably isn’t it. If you prefer to be blissfully ignorant for a little while longer, move along. But if you are fairly new to the scene and are looking for a one-stop place to get your information about sustainable fashion, this book is well worth the purchase.