Land struggle is the struggle

Quote mark For a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”
Franz Fanon
Political philosopher from Martinique and author of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’


The study of fashion’s colossal impact on the environment can feel abstract or science- based, obscured by statistics and greenwashing. But far from being abstract, a roadmap to clothing that does not exploit or wreck our planet is fundamentally tied to current political struggles for justice. Start pulling on the thread of land rights and you will see the entire interconnected nature of exploitation in the global fashion industry reaches back centuries.

The purpose of this chapter is to show that every piece of clothing that gets produced cannot be separated from the question of land. Who owns land, who controls what land is used for and what gets grown on it, who reaps the benefits and profits, who decides whether forests are cut down or pipelines laid. Who gets to kick people off land and call it private.81

This chapter also shows the uneven system of capitalism – the global elites and multinational corporations so heavily invested in the production of cotton, and other exports such as fur and viscose, that they have tilted the world away from freedom, food sovereignty and what is actually needed towards an extractive system that has 822 million hectares of Global South land used to service the Global North.

The following essays contained in this chapter show land as going to the heart of colonialism and capitalism. But they also underline the importance of crediting the people who have been doing what is now referred to as ‘slow’ fashion for millennia. ‘Sustainable’ fashion is not a new practice, but rather one that has been subsumed and trampled by colonialism and capitalism.

As we stand on an environmental precipice there has never been a more important moment to understand that the alternatives are not just in the future, they are happening now. We must listen, learn, and support clothing systems that are grounded in land-based practices – not just because they are better than what we have now, but also because they are deeply political. A decolonisation that is expressly tied to the return of stolen land82
contains the start of a fair and just world.

It is up to all of us who care about the state of the fashion industry to support farmers’ strikes, land right struggles and pipeline protests. We must protect the water, the air, and the land where we are, while standing in solidarity with Indigenous communities, farmers, and land defenders across the globe. Never forgetting that everything we will ever wear is a product of two things – human labour and land.

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  • 81Even here in the UK, where so many colonial crimes began, there is no public access to 92% of this land see Hayes,N. The Book of Trespass. Bloomsbury Publishing. July 2021 and Right to Roam Campaign
  • 82Riley Kucheran quoted in Hoskins,TE. The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion. Pluto Press. August 2022 p156