• Unraveled

  • The Life and Death of a Garment
  • By: Maxine Bedat
  • Narrated by: Maxine Bedat
  • Length: 9 hrs and 21 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (21 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Longlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 

A groundbreaking chronicle of the birth - and death - of a pair of jeans, that exposes the fractures in our global supply chains, and our relationships to each other, ourselves, and the planet

Take a look at your favorite pair of jeans. Maybe you bought them on Amazon or the Gap; maybe the tag says "Made in Bangladesh" or "Made in Sri Lanka". But do you know where they really came from, how many thousands of miles they crossed, or the number of hands who picked, spun, wove, dyed, packaged, shipped, and sold them to get to you? The fashion industry operates with radical opacity, and it's only getting worse to disguise countless environmental and labor abuses. It epitomizes the ravages inherent in the global economy, and all in the name of ensuring that we keep buying more while thinking less about its real cost. 

In Unraveled, entrepreneur, researcher, and advocate Maxine Bédat follows the life of an American icon - a pair of jeans - to reveal what really happens to give us our clothes. We visit a Texas cotton farm figuring out how to thrive without relying on fertilizers that poison the earth. Inside dyeing and weaving factories in China, where chemicals that are banned in the West slosh on factory floors and drain into waterways used to irrigate local family farms. Sewing floors in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are crammed with women working for illegally low wages to produce garments as efficiently as machines. Back in America, our jeans get stowed, picked, and shipped out by Amazon warehouse workers pressed to be as quick as the robots primed to replace them. Finally, those jeans we had to have get sent to landfills--or, if they've been "donated," shipped back around the world to Africa, where they're sold for pennies in secondhand markets or buried and burned in mountains of garbage.

A sprawling, deeply researched, and provocative tour-de-force, Unraveled is not just the story of a pair of pants, but also the story of our global economy and our role in it. Told with piercing insight and unprecedented reporting, Unraveled challenges us to use our relationship with our jeans - and all that we wear - to reclaim our central role as citizens to refashion a society in which all people can thrive and preserve the planet for generations to come.

©2021 Maxine Bedat (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"A sharp angle on the hot topics of globalisation and sustainability, seen through the 'biography' of a pair of jeans. Bédat illustrates the environmental, economic and social pressures building up in the global fashion and garment industry and uncovers the unseen consequences of our thoughtless shopping choices." (Financial Times, Best Books of 2021, Business) 

"Required reading for the conscientious." (Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and New Yorker writer) 

Unraveled is at once fascinating and disturbing. Read it before you buy a new pair of jeans, or anything else, for that matter. It will forever change the way you look at fashion." (Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction and New Yorker writer)  

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    5 out of 5 stars

A fascinating look at the modern textile industry

As an amateur social historian, I'm deeply interested in the history of textiles and their production more than any other thing, and I thought that this book might be an interesting read on modern textile production. In that way, Ms. Bedat didn't disappoint. Unraveled is a well thought out, well written look at the life cycle of a pair of jeans. Ms. Bedat writes in an accessible, friendly way. She also has a wonderful voice for reading, and her flow and cadence made the audiobook a mostly easy listen.

One of the things I really liked was the way the book was set up, logically, to follow the cotton to the washers, to the spinners, to the weavers, etc. I make my own cloth, occasionally, and she didn't miss a step. She even pronounced "sliver" (Sly-ver) right, which isn't even common in those of us who know how to spin yarn by hand. Ms. Bedat was able to look at political and social issues that affect the industry without getting wallowed down in politics, or making those issues louder than the rest of the story.

There were only two things that bothered me. One was maybe me geeking out, but there were some inaccuracies in her presentation of history and textiles. I won't get deeply into it here, but the Cherokee were not primarily removed to provide arable land for cotton growing (they were mountain dwellers and gold was discovered shortly before the passing of the Indian Removal Act, but it's much more complicated than that.) Also, wool and linen garments worn by Northern Europeans were not itchy and uncomfortable, and continued to be used as the most common fabric even after the introduction of cotton, which was a luxury fabric for a long time. Finally, yes, organic fabrics may have chemicals used on them to process them, but Ms. Bedat leaves out the fact there are several certifying bodies - Oexo-Tex and GOTS are two - that certify that either the fabric was processed without chemicals or that there are no residual chemicals on the fabric at the time of wholesale.

The other thing was mispronunciations. A producer should have caught these and corrected them. The worst one, especially for a book about textile production, was "Man - ah - facturing." It would have been simple for the audio producer to correct Ms. Bedat's pronunciation and have her try again, rather than leaving it to become distracting and a bit infuriating as a very common word in the book (yes, I do realize that's a little petty!)

Would I recommend the book? Yes! Would I read it again? Yes, I probably will read it again. The breadth of the topic and the amount of information Ms. Bedat was able to compile about an industry with very little formal oversight was amazing.

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an eye opener

this book made a very coherent connection between economics, fashion industry, the environment, climate change, diversity, equity, and inclusion. I will never be able to look at shopping again, and I'm done with "retail therapy".

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Interesting. learned a lot.

The writing style is a bit casual for my me...but it is not too bad. At the end there is a bit of hand waving about solving the issues. For example, using solar power. if business could... they would. But we literally don't have the technology yet. Can't just handwave the laws of physics. Business would love to use free power after paying up front cost. Simply can't generate enough power at this time using solar.

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  • DK
  • 11-16-21

Eye-opening and thorough

Really opened my eyes to the fashion industry and the people, businesses, and policies that drive it. Well-organized and at times absorbing, with lively narration. Highly recommend for anyone who wants an understanding of how the fashion industry operates today.

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  • textlad
  • 02-15-22

Such an interesting book. Briliantly researched.

A truly thought provoking book. I work in tech and am very aware of the issues around sustainability in that sector but was shocked to learn what a massive impact the clothing industry is having on the planet. It certainly made me think about my wardrobe.

I particularly enjoyed understanding more about what happens to clothes when you "donate" them.

Very well read by Maxine Bedat and congrats to her from an impressive piece of research.

Highly recommended.