The Price of Fashion

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Review of 'Ripped and Torn', Amaranta Wright, Ebury £10.99

Amaranta Wright thought she had landed the job of her lifetime when Levi's offered her the opportunity to make the brand 'an indispensable accessory' to Latin America's youth. While Levi's wanted people's dreams, vulnerabilities and desires, Wright wanted a return ticket to the continent where she was born. It seemed the perfect match but Wright soon realised that her seemingly innocent undercover mission helped to nurture corporate exploitation of a world already ripped and torn by Western global capitalism.

In fearless prose Wright pieces together the mosaic of Latin America with her personal journey that prompts her to take a stance against the ruthlessness of imperialism. She unearths the consequences of US-backed coups and assassinations of democratically elected leaders to install dictatorships. These then welcomed the IMF with its structural adjustment programmes, deregulation of prices and selling of nationalised state-run industries in most Latin American countries. She explains how capitalism perpetuates the gap between rich and poor, profiting upon the antagonisms it breeds.

Middle class teenagers in Levi's loyal 'safe areas' are all too happy to tell Wright about their contempt for the poor. Colombian art students brought up on a diet of MTV and Coke, and kids hanging out in Lima's shopping malls blame the poor for all society's ills. By consuming brands like Levi's they distinguish themselves as superior to the majority who cannot afford the 'blue jean dream'.

It is this racism that makes Levi's rich, Wright says, realising that she also is part of prescribing the false remedy to Latin America's youth. She is selling their thoughts and feelings to be patented by a corporate machine that is 'formulated to inspire needs before the needs exist'.

Wright's ideals get more pronounced when she visits the areas deemed unworthy for a place on Levi's fashion map. In the slums of Caracas, salsa and laughter meet her despite the fact that everyday life is a struggle against poverty and the military police. Surfers on Peruvian beaches resist Fujimori's policies by not caring. Chilean working class kids tell her that Pinochet stole everything from them, even their own thoughts.

She sees how Levi's treats its own employees in a Colombian sweatshop. Working nine hours a day for 51 cents an hour, the workers sew in silence. They do not dare to speak of workers' rights and meet the same fate as the 1,500 trade unionists who have been murdered during the last decade.

Latin America is an eye-opener to Wright and she even sees everything differently upon returning to London where she grew up. Here celebrities save the world's poor in front of TV cameras by visiting destitute children living on rubbish heaps, all to show British generosity. What the cameras don't show is Britain's complicity in creating the dictatorships and economic policies that create world poverty.

As the latest addition to the likes of No Logo and The Corporation, Ripped and Torn is a must-read for those who want to understand how people in the developing world are branded in their millions by global corporations to keep capitalists in power. It also pays tribute to Latin American working class people who refuse to give in to powerlessness and it beautifully describes how the author comes to believe another world is possible.