Putting on the Dog: The Animal Origins of What We Wear

Melissa Kwasny. Trinity Univ, $27.50 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59534-864-7
In this open-minded, complex inquiry, poet Kwasny visits farmers, artisans, and producers of skins, furs, wool, silk, feathers, and pearls in several countries to explore the relationship between animals and the people who wear them. Kwasny points out that industrialized mass production means wearers lose a connection with their clothing’s origins. To reclaim it, she looks into not only the technical elements (visiting a sheepskin tannery in San Antonio, Tex.) but also the underlying philosophies (describing the Yup’ik belief that hunted animals are a gift to the hunter and not to be turned down, or looking at the use of feathers in spiritually resonant garments in Hawaiian and Aztec cultures). She compares mass production (with its environmental hazards, child labor, health risks) to smaller-scale, more sustainable operations (such as Perlas del Mar de Cortez, a Mexican pearl farm that focuses on building up the local economy and keeping the waters clean) and considers the “colonist thinking” that leads to production rules and bans (on, for instance, certain feathers) being imposed “without any comprehension of indigenous life.” Kwasny describes her surroundings in lyrical but unpretentious prose and brings complexity to her project by striking a careful balance between appreciating animal-derived clothes and questioning how they are made. Anyone interested in the production side of fashion—or any curious owner of a wool sweater or silk scarf—will find their interest rewarded. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/15/2019
Release date: 10/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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