Material Girls author Elaine Dimopoulos discusses her novel and the real world statistics behind waste in the fashion industry.
About ‘Material Girls’
Marla Klein is a 16-year-old girl at the top of the world. She’s a member of the Superior Court at one of the top five fashion houses, and she has the power to set the latest fashion trends with just a nod of her head.
Ivy Wilde, on the other hand, lives a glamorous life as the biggest female pop star of her time. She sets trends by wearing a style just once and never has to worry about price tags.
When Marla and Ivy’s paths cross, something wonderful happens. Suddenly, they’re leading their own lives and making serious changes in society. But will the people in charge of their lives allow them to continue their independent streak? Read our review.
Interview with Elaine Dimopoulos
Tell us five interesting things about yourself.
1. I went to boarding school.
2. I’ve met two U.S. presidents.
3. I once ate a piece of ox testicle.
4. I’m a feminist.
5. My cats’ names are Harry and Hermione. They are 15 years old and senile.
How did you come up with a Divergent-meets-Project-Runway premise?
One day, I was looking at some mothers and daughters who were dressed exactly alike. I imagined what it would be like if children instead of adults passed judgment on clothing styles, like the judges on Project Runway. The idea of a world where kids are tapped as the arbiters of trends and taste grew from there.
Have you always been interested in fashion and pop culture?
Yes. As a kid, I always had pop music blaring out of my stereo, and I read fashion magazines. As I grew older, I developed a fascination with watching trends in fashion and music come and go, sometimes quite rapidly.
Who are some of the icons that have influenced you?
Do you mean pop culture icons? I was in college when the New Mickey Mouse Clubbers made the transition to teen superstars: the Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson generation. I had them in my head when writing the character of Ivy Wilde, who stars in The Henny Funpeck Show before breaking through as a pop superstar.
How much research did you have to do to make all the details realistic?
I wrote the novel in the Boston Public Library and researched statistics on clothing production, clothing waste, the history of fashion, design techniques, and child labor movements. My findings were intriguing — and sobering at times.
The problems addressed in this book are not fictional, especially when it comes to environmental concerns and poor working conditions. How much of this story is based in reality?
The statistics Vivienne quotes in the novel are real. We discard 70 pounds of clothes per person per year in the U.S. The vast majority is burned or ends up in landfills. There are still deadly fires and accidents in garment factories, and despite regulations, child workers are employed. If readers are interested, in the back of my book they can find some organizations that are working to improve environmental and labor conditions.
Do you think a system like the one you explored in Material Girls is a possibility in our lifetime or maybe the next?
I think we’re there already. We glorify youth and are hungry for the next hot thing. Clothing companies like Brandy Melville actually do employ teens to offer feedback on designs. Perhaps we don’t use trendchecking guns to determine whether an article of clothing is “in” or “out,” but fashion magazines let us know when a trend has passed. We have much in common with the world of the novel.
Which is easier to write, the first line or the last line?
Interesting question! The first line, perhaps? Endings are tough.
What is one YA novel you wish you had when you were growing up?
If I’d read Feed by M.T. Anderson when I was a teenager, I would have resolved to become a writer there and then. It shares many of the same themes as Material Girls.
What other projects are you working on now?
I have a picture book biography and a contemporary middle grade novel in the works. I’m also playing around with a companion novel to Material Girls!
About Elaine Dimopoulos
Elaine studied writing at Simmons College’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. She was admitted to its M.F.A. program on the basis of a single short story. That story would become the first chapter of her novel Material Girls.
Before dedicating herself to writing for young people, Elaine earned a degree in literature from Yale and an M.A. in education leadership from the Klingenstein Center at Columbia. She currently teaches children’s literature and writing courses at Boston University and Grub Street. She served as the Associates of the Boston Public Library’s Children’s Writer-in-Residence while she wrote Material Girls and was also named a St. Botolph Club Emerging Artist. She blogs about children’s books for the parenting site Mommybites.com, and her writing has appeared in Of Looms and Lilies, a modern dance composition by choreographer Jody Weber. Elaine lives outside Boston with her family.