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Unformatted text preview: THE FASHION INDUSTRY AS A SLIPPERY DISCURSIVE SITE: TRACING THE LINES OF FLIGHT BETWEEN PROBLEM AND INTERVENTION Nadia K. Dawisha A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Sciences. Chapel Hill 2016 Approved by: Patricia Parker Sarah Dempsey Steve May Michael Palm Neringa Klumbyte © 2016 Nadia K. Dawisha ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ii ABSTRACT Nadia K. Dawisha: The Fashion Industry as a Slippery Discursive Site: Tracing the Lines of Flight Between Problem and Intervention (Under the direction of Dr. Patricia Parker) At the intersection of the glamorous façade of designer runway shows, such as those in Paris, Milan and New York, and the cheap prices at the local Walmart and Target, is the complicated, somewhat insidious “business” of the fashion industry. It is complicated because it both exploits and empowers, sometimes through the very same practices; it is insidious because its most exploitative practices are often hidden, reproduced, and sustained through a consumer culture in which we are all in some ways complicit. Since fashion’s inception, people and institutions have employed a myriad of discursive strategies to ignore and even justify their complicity in exploitative labor, environmental degradation, and neo-colonial practices. This dissertation identifies and analyzes five predicaments of fashion while locating the multiple interventions that engage various discursive spaces in the fashion industry. Ultimately, the analysis of discursive strategies by creatives, workers, organizers, and bloggers reveals the existence of agile interventions that are as nuanced as the problem, and that can engage with disciplinary power in all these complicated places. By shining a light on these agile interventions that are employed by various actors in the industry, my hope is that this project will help to clarify these murky spaces and pave a way forward for change within the fashion industry and beyond. iii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to first thank my advisor, Dr. Patricia Parker, whose infinite patience, wisdom, and support kept me grounded, focused and determined during my entire PhD process. Without her, I would never have started this project, nor would I have finished it. She has an intellect that is extraordinarily flexible, and a humanity that is both humble and kind. Her academic work, advocacy service, and leadership roles are awe-inspiring and have modeled for me the kind of scholar I can only hope to emulate. I would like to thank Dr. Sarah Dempsey for helping direct the research on worker speaker tours in my first semester that laid the groundwork for this project; Dr. Michael Palm for his intuitive understanding of my interests in fashion and immaterial labor and encouraging me to pursue them in his course; Dr. Steve May for his courses on Foucault and CSR that helped to ground the theoretical underpinnings of this project; and Dr. Neringa Klumbyte, my external examiner, who gave generously of her time to read and make valuable comments on this project. I would also like to thank Vilma Berg and Kimberly Yingling for their tremendous support they have given me during this entire PhD process – which has at times been daunting and exhausting. Knowing that they were there to advocate for me in the department when I had a problem or question helped to keep my confidence intact. I would like to thank my beloved parents, whose loving support and intellectual guidance I will forever be indebted to; my brother Emile, whose humor helped infuse this process with some much-needed perspective; and my cousin Whitney, whose own iv circuitous path to a successful post-law school career inspired me to be creative and flexible in my own journey. There are so many friends whose infinite support and patience proves the legitimacy of the mantra “it takes a village.” Dr. Anne Whisnant, thank you for your incredible guidance in helping me forge my own, unique path in pursuing (and completing) my degree. Kathleen Morton, thank you for all of the time you spent helping me carve out my own little space in the blogosphere, which ultimately became an important part of this project. To my dear friends in my program whose pep talks, advice and laughter I will forever be grateful for: Janel Beckham, Cameron Ayres, Shannon Lerner, Wayne Rysavy, and Srinath Jayaram, you are amazing people and even better friends. To others who have supported me throughout this process: Deborah Bird, Carmela Mager, Andrew Nowosad, Martha Delafield and Suzanne Wolfe, thank you for keeping me healthy and grounded. I would like to thank four academics (two of whom were also interviewed for this project) who demonstrated to me that my work could have relevancy beyond the ivory tower: Dr. Jessica Metcalfe, Dr. Adrienne Keene, Dr. Mimi Nguyen, and Dr. Minh-Ha T. Pham. Thank you for your brilliant academic (but accessible!) blogging that helped pave the path for mine. Finally, to all of the amazing people who generously gave me their time and trust by allowing me to interview them, I owe you my deepest gratitude. Your work to transform the fashion industry is truly inspiring and this project would not have happened without your valuable insights that helped to shape both the intellectual underpinnings of this dissertation and my advocacy work as a community organizer. v TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter One. Introduction………………………………………………………………...1 I. A Problem of Intervention………………………………………………...1 II. Theoretical Framework……………………………………………………3 III. Fashion as a Slippery Discursive Site……………………………………10 IV. Contemporary Predicaments of Fashion…………………………………13 V. Literature Review………………………………………………………...26 VI. Research Questions………………………………………………………40 VII. Methodology……………………………………………………………..41 VIII. Overview of Chapters……………………………………………………46 Chapter Two. The History of Fashion: Birth, Marketing and Globalization…................48 I. Introduction …………………………………………………………………...48 II. The Creation of Fashion:...……………………..…………………………….51 III. The Rise of Haute Couture.………………………………………….............59 IV. Artisan trade guilds and textile factories ...………………………………….69 V. The Marketing of Fashion……………………………………………………78 VI. Ready to Wear……………………………………………………………….83 VII. Fashion Knock-Offs……….………………………………………………..85 VIII. Advertising…………………………………………………………………93 IX. The Production of Fashion...…………………………………………………98 vi Chapter Three. Fashion as a Site for Constituting and Re-Articulating the Digital Media Complex……...……………………………………………………...102 I. Introduction…………………………………………………………………..102 II. Advertising: From Magazines to Television………………………………...103 III. Product Placement and Television………………………………………….112 IV. The case of Gossip Girl………………………………………………………..115 V. The Blogosphere.……………………………………………………………119 VI. Fashion Blogging…………………………………………………………...124 Chapter Four. Labor in the Fashion Industry…………………………………………...138 I. Introduction: Framing the Problem…………………………..........................138 II. Industry Always Rebels: On the Persistent Rise of Sweatshops…………....142 III. Advocacy Strategies against Sweatshops.………………………………….151 A. United Students Against Sweatshops…………………………………….153 B. Alta Gracia..........................................................................................161 C. Bangladesh Factory Accord………………………………………………167 D. Worker’s Sweatshops Tours………………………………………………173 E. Fair Trade…………………………………………………………………..179 F. “Made in the U.S”…………………………………………………………187 G. Blogger Interventions……………………………………………………..193 H. Fashion Revolution Week….….………………………………………….205 IV. Conclusion……………………………………………………….................215 Chapter Five. ‘Eco-Fashion’: Fashion’s Environmental Footprint…………………….218 I. Introduction……………………………..........................................................218 vii II. Eco-Fashion’s Dilemma.…………………………………………….............221 III. Fashion Sustainability History……………………………………………...232 IV. Debate over Fiber…………………………………………………………..246 V. Labeling/Certification……………………………………………………….253 VI. Greenwashing………………………………………………………………259 VII. Shop for a Cause……………………………………………………..........270 VIII. Can Corporate Interventions produce change………………...…………..281 IX. Conclusion…………………………………………………………….........298 Chapter Six. “It’s just a headdress”: Fashion and Appropriation……………………....300 I. Introduction………….……………………………………………………….300 II. History of Cultural Appropriation…………………………………...............302 III. The Issue of Intellectual Property…………………………………..............308 IV. Cultural Appropriation: Capitalizing on Otherness for Profit……………...313 V. Native Fashion Appropriation…………………………………………….....319 Chapter Seven. Conclusion……………………………………………………………..346 Works Cited.…………………………………………………………………………....358 viii Chapter One Introduction I. A Problem of Intervention I haven’t been in a Gap since I was sixteen. As a teenager growing up during the height of the anti-sweatshop movement in the late nineties, I became incensed reading stories about young people my age who were laboring in factories far away to make my clothes. As a sophomore in high school, I founded a chapter of Free the Children, a youth-centered organization started by a thirteen-year old Canadian, who wanted to fight child labor globally while encouraging civic engagement among young people. I became invested in changing my local and global community—organizing both hunger drives for at-risk children in Washington D.C. and petition campaigns demanding that global fashion brands eradicate child labor in their supply chains. After reading a story about how children were found sleeping on the roof of a Gap factory, I resolved to never buy a piece of clothing from Gap again. I have kept that promise. Still, as a testament perhaps to the power of rationalization, I found myself shopping at cheap fast-fashion retailers – which exploded when I was a college student in the 2000s – without questioning their labor practices. “I am too poor to afford expensive, cute clothing, I have to shop here,” I would reassure myself as I left the store with my ‘haul.’ I shopped at thrift stores too, but again and again I frequented fast fashion retailers for a quick and cheap purchase, somehow convincing myself that by boycotting Gap, I had demonstrated commitment to the cause. It was easy for me to be less vigilant 1 in my commitment to the cause, as it was difficult to pursue anti-sweatshop advocacy at my conservative university where I would not have a community of other organizers to hold me accountable. While I made a documentary on behalf of the university staff that went on strike my senior year of college, it was challenging to stay engaged with labor issues and I too often found myself falling back into ‘blissful ignorance.’ Furthermore, the media attention on garment worker exploitation and even the more sensationalist topic of child labor began to fade into the background, as other more ‘trendy’ social justice issues (such as environmentalism) took its place. I was able to convince myself that if I didn’t hear about Forever 21 being implicated in neo-colonialist practices, such as forcing children to sleep on the factory roof, than surely it didn’t exist, right? My personal trajectory tells part of the story of the complicated problem of intervention, both for consumers and activists, into the fashion industry’ most pressing issues, such as labor exploitation, environmental degradation, and neo-colonialism.1 After years of struggling to come to terms with my own complicity, something clicked and I was able to develop some clarity on my complex relationship with an industry I both loved and loathed. I came to realize that focusing on the Gap as this ‘sole oppressor’ was misguided, and that everyone is implicated in some way in the problems of global fashion. It was that ‘aha moment’ that eventually compelled me to write this dissertation, which argues that organizers need to draw from a multiplicity of interventions to engage the slippery and multifaceted injustices coursing through and 1 Neo-colonialism is the practice of influencing a poorer country through the use of capitalism, globalization, and cultural imperialism in the lieu of direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control (hegemony). (Sartre, 2001) 2 from the fashion industry. I hope that my work provides insights into the ways organizers in the fashion industry can advocate for a more just and equitable future. II. Theoretical Framework: Theorizing Multiplicity as both Problem and Intervention At the intersection of the glamorous façade of designer runway shows, such as those in Paris, Milan and New York, and the cheap prices at the local Walmart and Target, is the complicated, somewhat insidious “business” of the fashion industry. It is complicated because it both exploits and empowers, sometimes through the very same practices; it is insidious because its most exploitative practices are often hidden, reproduced, and sustained through a consumer culture in which we are all in some ways complicit. Fashion, in its most simple definition, is a “unique and specialized form of body adornment, dress and style.”2 It is often referred to as an art form, albeit a unique one, in that its accessibility allows even non-experts to comment.3 It is cyclical and everchanging, often reflecting cultural shifts in larger society. Furthermore, fashion’s reach, and the accompanying problems, seems ubiquitous. There is perhaps no industry that represents a global, transnational project more so than the fashion industry. It stretches across multiple nations, means of labor, and forms of presentation. In fact, beginning with the Silk Road,4 the clothing industry was among the first to become transnational, 2 (Polhemus, Fashion & Anti-Fashion, 2011, 18) 3 (Mendes & de la Haye, 2010, 7) 44 The development of silk textile arts in China dates to 3000 B.C. By the Han dynasty in the 3rd century AD, silk manufacture and export, including to the West, had already become a major part of the Chinese economy. Among the ancient Greeks, the Chinese were known as Seres, or people of ser, meaning silk. The demand for textiles from China was so great in Renaissance Italy that explorers such 3 and it is the most globally dispersed when it comes to its structures of production, both material and symbolic. Yet, as will be discussed further in chapter two, fashion, as a massive global industry, is really a product of modernity. Prior to the nineteenth century most clothing was custom-made, but beginning in the twentieth century ready-to-wear and mass-produced fashion proliferated with the rise of global capitalism and industrial developments such as the sewing machine and the factory system of production. The fashion industry in the twenty first century is an international and highly lucrative industry, which consists of four main components: the production of raw materials; the production of fashion goods by designers, contractors and manufacturers; retail sales, and various forms of advertising and promotion.5 Fashion is an industry that is implicated in both the private and public spheres, both local and global. While it “gives voice to private sentiments and sensibilities by connecting it to the material, performative, visual, and tactile sphere,” as an economic form, however, it is shaped by and embedded within both local and global institutions and operates through a logic of distance.6 This logic assumes that the further removed a consumer is from the conditions under which a producer labors, the less likely they will be to have awareness, and ultimately motivation, to protest. While there is a growing movement that encompasses people dedicated to sustainable, transparent fashion practices, aimed at increasing democratization in multiple sectors of the fashion industry and bridging that distance between producer and consumer, questions remain about their as Marco Polo in the 13th century spent years on trade missions to the East. For more, see (Bergreen, 2007), (Bentley, 1993). 5 (Mendes & de la Haye, 2010, 252-295) 6 (Tu, 2011, 27) 4 impact. Movements such as those involved in Eco-fashion, the ‘Slow Cloth’ movement, the anti-sweatshop movement, the Fair Trade movement, the crafting/DIY (“do it yourself) community, and ‘authentic indigenous cultures’ movement represent a patchwork of interventions that sometimes reinforce the very problems they are trying to disrupt. For example, fair trade certifications, although intended to provide transparency for consumers concerned about worker exploitation, have sometimes been co-opted by corporations in the name of ‘democratization’ and ‘accessibility.’ My research interrogates how throughout history, fashion’s disciplinary power has been articulated to reproduce the status quo, and will also demonstrate the complicated conditions by which these processes can potentially be re-articulated to pave the way for more egalitarian arrangements in the industry. To that end this dissertation employs post-structural theory as a heuristic to guide this inquiry. As a critical scholar who is also a community organizer, it would seem natural that when using a theoretical paradigm to analyze my research, I would lean towards critical approaches of feminism that have the purpose of “emancipating subordinated groups from oppressive versions of reality,”7 so that they can become empowered subjects who have “sufficient agency to change the world.”8 Critical theorists have often derided deconstructive approaches to feminism, such as post-structuralism, as not acting towards ‘real’ change. However, as Susanne Gannon and Bronwyn Davies argue, post-structuralism does not prevent action, but instead envisions emancipation in a manner that is less straightforward than those of critical theorists, who view power as “oppressive and unilinear, thus mobilizing the 7 (Gannon & Davies, 2012, 66) 8 (Gannon & Davies, 2012, 69) 5 binaries of dominator and oppressor.”9 A deconstructive approach argues for “complex and continuous reflection on the ways in which subjectivities, realities, and desires are established and maintained.”10 It asks that feminists work within numerous discourses depending on the social, interactive, and historical contexts in which they are researching, and to “shift the ground” in such a way that “what previously seemed normal and natural becomes unthinkable.”11 I argue that a post-structuralist methodology helps to answer important questions about the kinds of claims - Foucault would call them statements12 people use to silence, sustain, or re-articulate discourses about complicity in exploitative labor. Post-structural theory uses discourse as its primary site of analysis, as introduced through Michel Foucault’s work. Foucault argues that discursive power circulates and there are both discourses that constrain, and discourses that enable, the production of knowledge, dissent and difference.13 Within this framework then, the questions that are of concern are, what is the work of discourse in this instance? How do some discourses maintain their authority, while other voices get silenced? Who benefits and how? These questions ultimately address issues along the power/disempowerment binary, specifically relating to the material realities of raced, classed, and sexualized bodies, disrupting this promise of democratization. Viewing post-structural agency as historically specific and 9 Ibid 10 Ibid 11 (Gannon & Davies, 2012, 68) 12 (Foucault, Foucault Reader, 1984) 13 (Foucault, Foucault Reader, 1984) 6 socially conducted through particular ideologies of truth, Foucault thus felt that these discourses could be “called into question and changed.”14 A post-structuralist analysis has “nomadic tendencies” that go beyond disciplinary boundaries of “literary or linguistic texts to ...
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