#ModicInterview – Dana Thomas

Dana Thomas, an accomplished author, has written several books including “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes,” “Fashionopolis Young Readers Edition,” “Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano,” and the bestselling “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.” These books have been published by Penguin Press.

In addition to her writing, Dana Thomas hosts a podcast called “The Green Dream,” which focuses on sustainability and human rights. The podcast is produced by Wondercast. Furthermore, she has also ventured into screenwriting and penned the screenplay for the documentary film “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams.” This feature film was directed by Luca Guadagnino and premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020.

Dana Thomas embarked on her career as a writer for the Style section of The Washington Post. Over the course of fifteen years, she worked as a cultural and fashion correspondent for Newsweek in Paris. Currently, she holds the position of contributing editor for British Vogue and is a regular contributor to The New York Times Style section. Her articles have been featured in esteemed publications such as The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Architectural Digest.

Recognized for her outstanding contributions in journalism, Dana Thomas was awarded the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation’s Ellis Haller Award for Outstanding Achievement in Journalism in 1987. In 2016, she was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture. Furthermore, she was a Logan Nonfiction Fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good in 2017.

Currently residing in Paris, Dana Thomas continues to make significant contributions to the world of fashion, culture, and sustainability.

The new book of Dana Thomas ‘Fashionopolis’: The Cost of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothing’ calls for more responsible practices in fashion

What to wear? It’s a daily question we ask ourselves. Nowadays, we’re constantly told to wear something new. With the clothing industry producing a staggering 80 billion garments per year and employing millions worldwide, it has a history of exploiting labor, the environment, and intellectual property. Unfortunately, these abuses have only intensified in recent decades, hidden from plain sight amidst the rise of fast fashion, globalization, and technological advances. However, there’s a pressing need for a new, human-centered approach. In her bestselling book, journalist Dana Thomas explores how visionary designers and companies worldwide are leading the charge towards a more positive future for fashion. They are reclaiming traditional craftsmanship, embracing cutting-edge sustainable technologies, and revolutionizing the industry through methods like 3D printing, clean denim processing, smart manufacturing, hyperlocalism, fabric recycling, and even lab-grown materials. From small-town artisans to renowned brands like Stella McCartney, Levi’s, and Rent the Runway, Thomas highlights the trailblazers committed to this cause. It’s time for us to take a mindful approach to our clothing choices and Fashionopolis is the definitive guide to help us get started.

1. Hello Dana, welcome to MODIC Magazine, being born in the US and based in Paris, share with us a few highlights about your journey as an author and fashion journalist?

Of course!

2. Your journalism career for the Style section of The Washington Post in 1988 changed so many times during the years, but always following the same path? How has the fashion industry changed since then?

Enormously. When I started, fashion journalists mostly covered trends—what’s in, what’s out—and some celebrity news, like what the First Lady was wearing, or red-carpet dressing. Then it because about mergers and acquisitions. Then it became about going public and going global. Now it is about the industry’s impact on the environment, and the innovators trying to fix the problems with cool new technology.

3. How challenging was it for you building a strong identity as an author and journalist?

It took years of dedication, and hard work, and focus, and passion. Being a journalist is all I wanted to do from the time I was 14—or maybe earlier—and I kept at it, making it my entire life. I originally wanted to be a political reporter, but when I was at The Washington Post, I landed in the Style section, writing about arts, culture, and fashion, and found I liked that too. I’m still at it.

As for being an author: I knew pretty early on that I also wanted to write books, but it took a while to figure out exactly what. Then I figured it out. I spent at least three years working on the proposal for my first book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, before I got it right, and landed a contract with a publisher.

4. Tell us more about your experience with Luca Guadagnino. How long did it take to research and write the script for the film, ‘’Salvatore Ferragamo: The Shoemaker of Dreams’’? Walk us through your design process a little bit.

I first met Luca when I was writing a story about his home in Crema for the New York Times. A year later, he rang me and asked me to write the script for the documentary he was making about Salvatore Ferragamo. I met with Luca a few times in New York City in the fall of 2017, when I was doing a fellowship in the Catskill Mountains, and he was in Manhattan for the premiere of Call Me by Your Name. We went over the story and how to do it, and then I set to work. First, I went to the Ferragamo headquarters in Florence, and recuperated all the archives digitally. Then I went home to Paris, read everything, dug up a few new, on US and UK newspaper database searches and at the University of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Historical Society. Then I picked out what I thought was best in Salvatore’s voice and stitched it together, and filled in with other family members and experts speaking about specific topics. I took about three months to research and write the script. I wrote the questions for the interviews to get that information we needed to flesh out those topics, and, in some cases, I conducted the interview too, most notably with Wanda Ferragamo. The best things are usually created when people follow their own vision rather than just pursuing success or money for its own sake.

5. How challenging is the business part for you?

One does not get rich in journalism. It’s long been a low-paying job. And even less so now than when I started—rates are lower, fewer expenses are covered, I don’t get extra payments when foreign editions of magazines reprint my stories, like I did in the 1990s. I earned twice as much 25 years ago as I do today for the same work. It’s pretty disheartening.

6. Is traveling regularly also an important aspect of your creative process in terms of growth?

I travel a lot for book reporting, to see people or understand a culture I am writing about, and to give speeches, which is actually how I make a living now. I’m actually answering this in Brazil, where I traveled to give a speech. But for growth of my creative process? No. Travel is too taxing and stressful these days! I’d much rather stay home. But then again, I live in Paris. Plenty there to see and do. For me, the most important aspect of my creative process is reading good writing, and I do that easily on my sofa or a park bench.

7. Why is copyright very important for an author and journalist nowadays?

Since copyright has existed, it has always been important for writers. You need to protect your work, just like musicians, and artists do.

8. How do you face bureaucratic challenges in such a complex industry as fashion?

The same way I do in any other area of my life: by being professional, respectful, and tenacious. Once one can handle the French bureaucratic system, one can deal with anything.

9. How do you explore the needs of innovation and revolutionary changes when it comes to writing new scripts or new books?

I’m not sure what you mean by this? How do I come up with new ideas? If that’s what you mean, then I don’t know, actually. I think, I listen, and meditate and reflect, I read a lot, and then something gels. I remember I once listened to an interview with Keith Richards, and the journalist asked: How do you write a new song? And he said: “I’m an antenna, I just pick up an instrument and if there are any songs out there, I receive them.” I completely understood what he meant.

10. What makes you satisfied?

Doing the best writing possible, and sending it out into the world for others to read.

11. What makes you happy?

Being at home with husband, my daughter, and my 14-year-old dog.

Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes is an investigation into the damage wrought by the colossal clothing industry and the grassroots.

12. How do you think the high-tech and international movements can fight to reform it?

Innovation can be the solution to so many of our ills. In bio-materials, recycling, regeneration. All with the aim of creating less waste. But we must always consider the long-term impact. Almost a century ago, we thought the new innovative material polyester was genius—and we continued to believe that for decades. Only recently did we understand polyester’s long-term, and devastating, impact on humanity and the planet: it’s a petroleum-based fabric that never biodegrades and releases plastic microfibers into our waterways and air. A total disaster. So we must consider all angles of innovation, including the long term impact. Not celebrate and embrace the solution here and now.

13. What do you think about sustainability in the fashion industry?

I think the industry as a whole is way, way, way behind on the subject and resistant to change, because the old, polluting way of doing things makes a lot of money, and that’s why the tycoons are in the business: to make a lot of money. They don’t really care about the environment, or climate change, or extreme poverty. Indeed, their businesses are the cause of much of these problems. And yet they carry on, tweaking things here and there for appearances. That’s it.

14. How do you think greenwashing can be avoided?

The only way green-washing can be avoided is for activists and investigative journalists to call out those who do it. Shaming works.

15. Is digital technology an opportunity or a threat for the fashion industry?

Digital tech and AI are an opportunity and a threat to everything, like any other innovation. If used properly, it can be for good. If used improperly, it can cause harm.

16. What are your forever favorite books?

The Great Gatsby, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Long Goodbye, The Comedians, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

17. What about writers or authors?

Authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, Edith Wharton.

Writers: Patti Smith, Aaron Sorkin, New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane, former New Yorker fashion writer Holly Brubach, former New Yorker writer Lois Long, former New Yorker theatre critic John Lahr, former Washington Post television critic Tom Shales, Washington Post sports writer Sally Jenkins, and Washington Post political writer Dan Balz.

18. Do you have any favorite place where you feel inspired when it comes to the writing process?

No. I don’t need inspiration, or special place or ambiance. I can and do write anywhere. On buses and trains and planes. On benches, in parks, on the airport floor. In bed, at the kitchen table, at a bar, at my desk. It’s not about the place. I just sit down, or sometimes stand and do it.

19. What was the last place that really fascinated you?

The Iguazu Falls, in Brazil, last week. But for life? The Grand Canyon. Remarkable. And it puts everything in perspective.

20. A letter to your future self. What would you write?

Take care of your teeth. Get a dog sooner. And don’t drink.

Interviewed by Mira Postolache