The hastening speed and obsolescence of modern consumer goods–expressed in its most extreme form within fast fashion–has fundamentally reshaped society, culture, economics, and ultimately our sense of selves. Overheated global supply chains now work tirelessly in the service of producing ever-evolving “novel” new products–in the case of fashion, retail chains restock shelves several times a week with new colors and cuts perfectly attuned to consumer demand at that very specific moment. Is our urge and willingness to engage in the fast-fashion system based in a need to belong or to differentiate ourselves? What really is our ability to express our identities within the consumer capitalist system and to what degree are consumer goods about satisfying desire–and what do we mean when we say consumer products satiate us? Beneath these buying habits and the everyday reality of disposable societies in the developed West, there are many, many externalities lurking behind the scenes–poverty pay for retail and garment workers, environmental degradation, resource strain and drain, and waste of historic proportions. There is an inevitable feeling to our disposable culture. Within this context of malaise, what is the responsibility or power of the individual to reflect on and alter this system? What social, entrepreneurial, governmental or economic shifts could truly challenge fast fashion and disposable culture?
Brooklyn journalist and musician Elizabeth L. Cline is one of the world’s leading thinkers in the fields of fast fashion, globalization and disposable consumption. Her first book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Penguin Portfolio), received wide critical acclaim from publications including The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly and generated a whirlwind of radio, print, and TV attention: Most notably, Elizabeth has been a featured guest on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, “NBC Nightly News” with Brian Williams, BBC’s “The World,” and NPR’s “On Point.”
Elizabeth travels regularly to lecture on ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry and continues to write for The Nation, TheAtlantic.com, NewYork.com, AMCtv.com, and Sundance.tv, among other outlets. She is currently at work on her second book, which explores the next global industrial revolution, and will be touring Europe this Spring with her metal band Mortals.
This event is sponsored by the Department of Religion and is co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life at Columbia University.
An audio recording of this event is now available here.