Melia Belli Bose
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Stitching together gender, textile and garment labor, and heritage in Asia
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Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, luxury Asian textiles served as currency, tribute, and conveyers of status throughout much of the world. Women were largely responsible for producing cloth and garments, and received social recognition for their expertise. In the late nineteenth century, imperialism and industrialization throughout Asia profoundly altered social practices of textile design, production, and consumption. The emergence of neoliberal supply chain economics in the twentieth century further devalued female textile labor. Since the acceleration of global capitalistic industrialization over the past 150 years, the success of the global garment industry has triggered devastating human, environmental, and cultural impacts. Today, the garment industry is one of the world’s largest employers, with some 75 million workers in the combined textile, garment, and footwear industries. Two-thirds of them are women who work for poverty wages in factories throughout Asia that export to developed nations. This introduction provides the framework for the following chapters that represent several countries across Asia over nearly a century and a half. It briefly charts the shift from small-scale textile/garment production to the rise of ‘fast’ or ‘disposable’ fashion – cheap and quickly made garments that are often also quickly discarded. It also considers the recent emergence of heritage textile and garment revival efforts. The role of gender is key in each of these turns – the historically gendered roles of cloth production, decoration, marketing, and critique of labor abuses in these associated industries.

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Threads of globalization

Fashion, textiles, and gender in Asia in the long twentieth century


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