At the Root of Every Problem Today Is … Fashion?

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The list of ills being blamed on the fashion industry includes sweatshops, child labor, the worldwide culture of greed, rampant consumerism, warped self-images, eating disorders, pollution, water shortages, “spiritual and psychic damage,” and even pornography, divorce, and teen suicide. And who’s doing the blaming? Of all people, a fashion editor.

In an essay published on the craft-selling site Etsy entitled “The Tyranny of Trends,” Charty Durrant, who describes herself as “a fashion editor of twenty years’ standing” and used to cover the industry for the likes of The Sunday Times and British Vogue, rips into the fashion world with gusto, writing:

It is at the heart of all that ails us; pull at any social or environmental thread, and it will lead you back to the fashion industry.

Those are some mighty big claims. Even if the fallout of the fashion industry is mostly bad for the world, isn’t Durrant overstating things, crediting fashion as being more powerful than it really is?

To make her case, Durrant runs through a laundry list of modern-day problems, one by one, explaining why fashion is causing or making them worse. Pesticides? They’re used to produce cheap cotton, which is sent to China, then milled and woven into fabric in sweatshops, then sent all over the world. Pollution and water shortages? The toxic effect of the fashion industry in Africa, Brazil, China, and India are well-documented, and it’s been estimated that 800 liters of water is required to grow enough cotton to produce a single pair of jeans. Materialism, superficiality, greed, overflowing landfills, and obsession with one’s appearance? They can all be traced to the importance of fashion in our lives, Durrant explains:

Modern fashion is made from many seemingly incompatible ingredients, but the cornerstones are built-in obsolescence, fear of humiliation, and sexual attraction. Warmth, comfort and personal style have for the most part taken a back seat. As the trend frenzy deepens, we can see that fashion is no longer about style and self-expression: it is primarily about judgement – self-judgement and judgement of others.

What about things like divorce, pornography, and teen suicide? That’s where Durrant loses me. She blames the rise of these problems on people’s warped self-images—which in turn is blamed on fashion:

Our self-image is distorted and it is now an indisputable fact that our collective psyche is in deep pain. Thirty years ago divorce, pornography, underage sex, drug addiction and teenage suicide were rare. Today they are pretty much the norm.

Durrant doesn’t blame all fashion for these problems. Instead, she focuses particularly on the concept of globalized “fast fashion,” in which the latest designs are copied on the cheap and spread throughout the world quickly, so that nearly everywhere “we really do all look the same.”

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What’s the solution? Just as the locavore and slow food movements grew as popular alternatives to fast food and mass-produced food products, Durrant heralds the rise of “slow fashion,” which involves the simple concepts like “good design and the old-fashioned notion of ‘built to last’.”

The fashion world is known for drama and extravagance, for sprucing things up and showing off. Instead, Durrant argues that today’s conscientious global citizens should focus on the opposite, a renewed sense of simplicity:

In the end the true antidote is to adopt an attitude of voluntary simplicity. A manner of living and being that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich.

Very nice idea. But try pitching that concept to a fashion magazine editor.

(MORE: 10 Angry and Entertaining Consumer Rants)

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.