Colonialism and climate change: a review of ‘Consumed’ by Aja Barber

Consumed: On Colonialism, Climate Change, Consumerism, and the Need for Collective Change is a mouthful and a must-read for the current political and ecological crisis. If you’re reading this article, then you can benefit from reading this book. 

Consumed is a book about fashion that is about so much more than fashion. We are aware of the intersection between colonialism, consumerism and climate change, but it is often left unaddressed. Activist, writer and stylist Aja Barber explains the mechanisms of fast fashion, the horrific impact on both the planet and garment workers, the consumerist attitude of the Global North, the damaging and ongoing influence of colonialism, and the way that these issues are inseparable.

The first half of the book explores the ongoing impact of colonialism. The extent to which current exploitation mirrors that of colonialism and imperialism is frankly disturbing – anyone that claims colonialism doesn’t still have an impact needs to read this book as soon as possible. What particularly struck me was the map that Barber includes from the Slow Factory Foundation showing that current trade routes map identically with historical colonial routes. Ultimately, Barber makes the point that a top-down solution (think eco-lines in fast fashion brands) is impossible. The people who caused this mess can’t be the ones to get us out of it. The legacy of colonialism will not be addressed until there is a shift in power, and we can’t address the climate crisis while continuing to see marginalised people as resources instead of human beings. Barber gives much-needed attention to the garment workers who are the victims of this industry, while also celebrating the talent of these workers whose craft is not valued as it should be. When you have an item from a fast-fashion brand, picture the face of the person, most likely a woman from the Global South, who made it. 

Barber continues to highlight the human as well as environmental impact of the fashion industry. It is the BIPOC community that continues to be exploited by the fashion industry through worker exploitation and cultural appropriation. It is the BIPOC community that are forced to confront the worst consequences of climate change. Barber explores the concept of racial capitalism, which is where brands benefit monetarily from non-whiteness. Diversity is commodified, and all about money rather than genuine social change. In a direct and non-patronising style, Barber emphasises that feminism, colonialism and racism are inextricably linked, and we must do what we can from our intersection. 

After dismantling the corrupt, destructive system that the fashion industry perpetuates, Barber empowers the reader through practical, accessible advice on how we as consumers can make a real difference. She targets the systems and shows that this problem is fundamentally caused by fast-fashion brands, not individuals. But that doesn’t mean that individuals can’t help to solve the problem. From templates for writing to CEOs and politicians, to tips on how to break consumerist habits, Barber compassionately helps us to confront our own consumerism, empowering us to break the supply chain and use our voice for change.  This was my favourite part of the book, particularly the final chapter titled “I believe In You”- rather than despairing about the state of the world, I left this book with a real sense of hope and purpose. 

Overall, this is essential reading for those looking to learn a little bit more about such important issues as colonialism, climate change and consumerism. We are all part of this system, and we can all play a part in changing it. So read this book, feel your anger, direct it to those with power, and get inspired to make an impact. As Barber says: “You are so powerful. Every decision you make on this planet has an effect.” 


Featured Image: Lia Windsor

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