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Fugitive Denim

Written By vibykhmer on Saturday, August 29, 2009 | 7:28 PM


Saturday, August 29, 2009 , By Hilton Yip, The China Post

In this fascinating book, Rachel Louise Snyder takes a piece of everyday clothing, the humble but respected pair of jeans, and proceeds, through demonstrating the wide-ranging chain of globalization, to examine the different people and processes that are involved in making a pair of jeans from start to finish. Taking readers on a journey across the world, from cotton fields in Azerbaijan to designers in Italy to factories in Cambodia and China, Snyder presents an informative and moving account that showcases globalized manufacturing and the stories of the people who make their livelihood off of jeans manufacturing.

Touching on cotton picking, cultural clashes, global trade laws and factory labor standards, Fugitive Denim is part social commentary, part business book, and part primer for international trade and politics. With a lot of meticulous, detailed research and reporting, Snyder presents the stories of factory workers, denim designers and factory monitors, as well as the nitty-gritty of processes such as judging the quality of raw cotton and designing denim for making jeans. The book tends to veer a bit towards tedium in the latter parts due to the high amount of information.

Along with the stories of the people, Snyder also outlines the challenges faced by their countries, such as the shock and resignation among Italians of their famous clothing industry, including jeans of course moving to China.

The book features some interesting viewpoints that challenge conventional Western thoughts regarding factory workers and sweatshops. For instance, in Cambodia, one of the world's least developed and poorest countries, Snyder points out that garment factory workers often make about US$50 a month. Civil servants like police and teachers make an average of US$25-30. While many in the West are tempted to see these garment workers as largely oppressed, and some of them truly do suffer harsh work conditions, the work is also a form of liberation for these workers from a life of rural hardships and even restrictive cultural norms.

Despite the wealth of information and in-depth personal stories, the book is not very compelling due to a lack of a direct, overall message. There also isn't a direct connection that links the different people, for example the factory that the featured workers work in isn't the one that makes the jeans designed by the Italian designers profiled, other than that they're all vital in the manufacturing of jeans. Nevertheless it's still an insightful book that does well to show the human face behind globalization.

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