Researching global inequality in garment commodity chain

A consortium, led by Erik de Maaker (CADS, Leiden), has under the NWA scheme (Dutch National Science agenda) been awarded 98k€ for Localizing Global Garment Biographies, a two-year project to research the different ways by which users and producers attach value to garments.

Partners to the project Localizing Global Garment Biographies are Sanne van den Dungen (Grameena Vikas Kendram Society), Mila Ernst (Modemuze), Maaike Feitsma (Amsterdam University for Applied Sciences), Mayke Groffen (Museum Rotterdam), Niccy Kol (Raddis Cotton), Rachel Lee (Delft Technical University), and Jose Makor and Maria Theresa Snelders (MBO Zadkine). Localizing Global Garment Biographies is a subproject of Coherent, which is hosted by the Reinwardt Academy in Amsterdam.

Addressing the lack of transparency in global garment commodity chains

Localizing Global Garment Biographies seeks to address the lack of transparency in global garment commodity chains. The project proceeds from the heritage garment collection of Museum Rotterdam, and wants to bridge histories of materials, skills, production and usage, to critically engage with the affective and monetary values of garments.

The production of clothing

The production of clothing, typically located in the Global South, entails poor labour conditions, low wages, and high environmental costs. Ginners, weavers and stitchers, as well as farmers who produce raw materials, are severely exploited. Yet buyers of clothing typically remain shielded from such origins. Rather, they associate clothing with the fashion models that brands use to present these in terms of culture, ethnicity and class.

Race to the bottom

Globally, the garment industry is engaged in a race to the bottom, aimed at the production of ever larger quantities produced against ever lower costs. Due to these unfair and unsustainable practices, garments have in a country such as the Netherlands become more and more affordable, enabling consumers to buy clothes in large quantities, and discarding these after an increasingly shorter lifespan.

The need to redesign global commodity chains

This decrease in the monetary and affective value of garments calls for the need to redesign global commodity chains, for these to become less unequal in terms of the appreciation of labour and their impact on the environment, and increasingly circular in terms of the usage of materials and energy.

Increasing the agency of producers

Drawing inspiration from material culture studies, Localizing Global Garment Biographies will allow the project partners to work towards the creation of online audio-visual biographies of select pieces of clothing that can enable communication between producers and users of garments. This sharing of knowledge and values aims to increase the agency of producers, while inspiring consumers to make more responsible choices in buying, using and discarding clothing.

Picture credit: Raddis®System en www.raddiscotton.com

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