Ripped off

Ripped & Torn explores how Levi’s tries to convince Latin America’s fashion-hungry youth they need jeans, despite their shallow pockets


Ripped and Torn: Levi’s, Latin America and the Blue Jean Dream
Amaranta Wright
2006, Ebury Press
342 pages

Reviewed by Isabel O’Toole

PUT YOURSELVES into the pants of a young Latin American consumer. What would you be searching for in your pair of jeans? Comfort? Protection? Freedom?

Amaranta Wright was hired by Levi’s to find out in an effort to boost sales of its popular brand of jeans and set off in a quest for enlightenment about the modern-day values of youths throughout the region.

What she discovered was the hungry beast of global capitalism at its most rapacious in a part of the third world seen as an exotic neighbour by the United States.

Desperate tactics employed by Levi’s in order to entice youths by using their aspirations and vulnerabilities show just how eager billion-dollar companies are to line their pockets.

“I don’t think Levi’s analysis goes beyond decoding emotional facts in their laboratories of advertising formulae,” says Wright.

In Ripped & Torn, not one corner of the Latin American continent goes untouched. Wright travels from five-storey mall to city slum, always finding similar views and values.

The rich look at the poor in distaste, the poor look at the rich in distaste – but they are all affected by the same brands, shops and designers.

Disillusioned after her life-changing odyssey, she put pen to paper to denounce the damage caused by branded capitalism to a region in which 60 per cent of people live in abject poverty. Wright provides an insight into the world of consumer treachery, where designer brands rule the streets and lives of vulnerable young people.

She writes: “The new fascism is the consumer society, because it profoundly transforms young people… You cannot take out of your head what they have put in, they told me in Chile, but you can fight it and it can be broken. All fascisms can be broken.”

Seamless and witty

Ripped & Torn is an exciting, thought-provoking book which explores the arrogance and ruthlessness of the money-grabbing West – and how it is being defied by the growing awareness of teenagers. Wright sews together a seamless and witty masterpiece in this beautifully crafted and chatty exploration of young minds.

She writes: “‘It’s that… we don’t belong to ourselves anymore, we belong to the US…’ says Elvira. It is not a judgement, just a matter of fact.”

Combining, political, environmental and historical analysis as well as accurately depicting the emotions of teenagers everywhere, this book is passionate and enlightening. At times, it can be seen as a political statement criticising the harshness of capitalism as Wright fires barbs at governments for making the lives of Latin American youths harsh and shows how they are more aware of current affairs than adults think.

At times, however, Ripped & Torn can become repetitive and slightly dull with slow moving action and the overwhelming weight of political polemic. The accessible tone and use of slang throughout the book helps the audience engage with their guide, although sometimes it gives the impression that she is not taking the situation seriously.

While it is a blistering criticism of the global market and really aims to change views of naïve youngsters by delivering a strong message – ignore labels and brands and focus on ways to make the world better for everyone – this is easier said than done, and this reality is somehow pushed-aside by the author.

Wright has also aimed this book at the wrong audience as it is obvious that all the teenagers written about have already been sucked into the world of corporate globalisation. Hers is more of a study of capitalism and the views of young people than a book inspiring teenagers to change their ways. Ironically, young people are more likely to pay attention to the consumerism surrounding them than the poverty.

This book is likely to open the eyes of some youngsters, but will also be forgotten easily because of the enduring power of consumerism itself. After all, clothing brands foster staggering conformity in the modern-world – unfortunately, more so than books.

Isabel O’Toole is a student