Made in India”. That is a label that we, as consumers in the Netherlands, are more than used to finding in our fast-fashion clothing. Rather than acting as a symbol of pride or respect for the origin of the piece, it serves more as a testament to the global and delocalized capitalist system that characterizes fashion today.
“Made in India”, where “India” can be seen as representative of many other locations in the Global South, hide a whole set of stories that are woven, quite literally, into the garment and that are, as we can expect, not always happy ones. In the last few decades our society is progressively becoming more conscious of the reality behind the products we buy, from food to clothes and everything in between. Despite this growing awareness, it is also true that this interest tends to be rather superficial and rooted in a unilateral perspective: from Us, the consumers in the Netherlands, towards Them, the textile makers in India. Recognizing this inequality provokes the question: How can the agency of the stakeholders located on the production side of the global garment chain be increased, reducing its current state of inequality and unsustainability?
This is precisely what the NWA-funded research project Localizing Global Garment Biographies explores. In order to create fairer, more circular and sustainable clothing chains, it is crucial to gain an understanding of the dilemmas faced by farmers, producers, intermediaries and wearers. Only once we proceed from these can we attempt to arrive at a mutual narrative, one that links testimonies from one end of the chain to the other.
Localizing Global Garment Biographies brings highly diverse people together to collaboratively research the impact of the changing value and lifespan of clothing. The starting point is the collection of Museum Rotterdam, which has invited the city’s residents to create affective biographies on the origins of a selection of garments centered on the concept of Freedom. This encompasses freedom to wear, to buy, to produce, to earn and the cultivate. On the flip side, each of these notions of freedom is also associated with repression, bondedness and poverty. Hence Rotterdam stories can be connected to those of Indian textile producers, revealing and exploring connections between users and producers. The results feed into an experimental online environment for everyone to access. The partners of this project, apart from Museum Rotterdam, Modemuze and GVK Society, include MBO Zadkine, TU Delft, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Raddis Cotton, Erode Arts and Sciences College, NGO READ, and Leiden University.
The online environment to be created will aim at a general audience with an interest in fashion. It will focus specifically on late high school/early college level students and will also function as a flexible teaching tool. It will help students identify how garment production and consumption processes are located in physical and cartographic space, articulate the challenges faced by stakeholders, and reveal the values held by the people involved at each step. The online environment will support students in developing a critical position in relation to garment production and help them communicate this position to others.
Reclaiming the voice of those stakeholders that are usually overlooked is key, but this also holds for the voices of the garments themselves. A piece of clothing, both historical and contemporary, is a carrier of tangible memories, which accumulates as it progresses on its journey. From this perspective, Localizing Global Garment Biographies asks our material heritages, that what we as a society preserve, can help us to identify systemic factors that have led to us repeating past mistakes over and over again, while also acting as an impulse to liberate ourselves from these. Can greater awareness help us all to realize our involvement and role in interdependent global processes of production and consumption?
Join us to find some answers and discover these stories in Modemuze!
For more information on research and partners, see projectpage University Leiden
Partners Museum Rotterdam, MBO Zadkine, Modemuze, TU Delft, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Grameena Vikas Kendram, Raddis Cotton, Erode College or Arts and Sciences, READ (Rights Education And Development Centre) and tex.tracer.