Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value by Lucy Norris


Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value
By Lucy Norris

Recycling Indian Clothing - Global Contexts of Reuse and Value

Acknowledgments ix
1. Recycling Indian Clothing: THE GLOBAL CONTEXT 3
2. Fieldwork Contexts 21
3. Looking through the Wardrobe 55
4. Love and Protection: STRATEGIES OF CONSERVATION 85
5. Sacrifi ce and Exchange 121
7. Value and Potential 177
Notes 185
Bibliography 197
Index 207

In India, fieldwork could not have been conducted without the friendship and patient cooperation of the residents of the Progressive Housing Society and the Waghri dealers in Raghubir Nagar, who all remain anonymous. Lata and Suman Sharma and Rimly Bezbaruah welcomed me into their family lives. Bharati Chaturvedi of the NGO Chintan generously suggested contacts and new perspectives when I arrived, while Sunita Bhaduria, Shiv Kumar Malhotra, and George Samtabhai provided invaluable research assistance. Jasleen Dharmija, Santosh Desai, Achin Ganguly, Famida Hanfee, Anupam Jain, Jyotindra Jain, Madhu Jain, Rohini Kosla, Ajit Kumar, Anamika Pathak, Amba Sanyal, Arun Shah, Kishore Singh, Shobha Deepak Singh, Pooja Sood, and Laila Tyabji all generously gave their time to discuss such topics as Indian fabrics, development, recycling, consumption, and the fashion business. Sonam Dubal, Mrs. Patel, and Simon Wilson in particular shared their experiences as designers of fashions made from recycled clothing.

Early research was made fi nancially possible through a Research Stu dentship from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (R00429834592), the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Firth Award for 2002, and two grants from the University of London Central Research Fund in 2000 and 2004 to carry out further fi eldwork in India. Subsequent writing was supported by an ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (PTA-026-27-0013) and the ESRC Waste of the World project (RES 000-23- 0007). Documentary photography and additional research were funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant 2004 (SG 38685).

Susanne Kuchler has been an ever-helpful mentor who patiently helped to make sense of the notes and chapters as this study took shape, and whose work on the material mind continues to inspire. Mukulika Banerjee generously gave advice on setting up the initial research project in Delhi, provided invaluable contacts and assistance in the preparation of fieldwork plans, and off ered insightful comments on subsequent draft s. Jonathan Parry and Deborah Swallow provided useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Robert Casties, Haidy Geismar, Rob Irving, Patrick Laviolette, Frances Lloyd-Baynes, Jean-Sebastien Marcoux, Danny Miller, Kaori O’Connor, Claire Sussums, Graeme Were, and Diana Young off ered constructive criticism of draft chapters, and I benefi tted from the support off ered by members of the Department of Anthropology at University College London.

I would like to thank Bob Foster for including the book in the Tracking Globalization series, and Rebecca Tolen for editorial support at Indiana University Press. Both have been extremely patient, and generous with suggestions for improvements. An insightful report from an anonymous reviewer led to a thorough revision of the fi rst half of the manuscript, and I am grateful to that reviewer for the opportunity to improve the contextual information and the organization of the text. Shoshanna Green made numerous helpful suggestions during copyediting; any remaining errors and inconsistencies remain my own.

From a previous career working at the Horniman Museum, I was moved by Keith Nicklin’s passion for ethnography to do post-graduate study of anthropology at University College London. Later, Tim Mitchell accompanied me on a trip to Delhi in 2004 to take a series of photographs that have opened up new ways of thinking about my work, as well as making it accessible to a wider audience, and I am grateful to the Horniman Museum for hosting a photographic exhibition of his work, India Recycled, during 2008–2009. My parents, family, and friends have been immensely supportive, and my husband Dirk has spent many a long day in second-hand markets and recycling factories; it is his joyful enthusiasm for visiting India both before and aft er the arrival of our young son, Florian, which has made this project so much fun.


The Global Context Values in Indian Clothes
At an early morning market in an unremarkable Delhi su burb, women traders’ stockpiles are overfl owing with brightly colored silk saris, scarves, tunics, and trousers. Nearby, back-street family workshops are producing thousands of cushion covers, wall hangings, halter-neck tops, dresses, and skirts embellished with woven, printed, tie-dyed, and embroidered designs in Indian sari fabrics, all destined for the export and tourist markets. Th ese are the subjects of this research on trans-national material fl ows, but the story goes beyond the production of fashion and furnishings in north India and its relationship to global consumption. Th is book tells a much more surprising and little-known tale, that of changing indigenous practices of disposal, reuse, and recycling of local clothing and the burgeoning market in used textiles in a rapidly changing Indian consumer society.

Starting with the wardrobes, trunks, and suitcases of middle-class metropolitan households, bulging with old and unwanted clothes, the study looks at why people in India need to get rid of clothing, and how the way in which they do this is changing as new social worlds are developing. Images of unwanted surplus and the problems of what to do with waste clothing are becoming familiar to consumers in the West, but related recycling systems in newly developing economies have as yet attracted little attention. Cloth and clothing is never just thrown out as rubbish in India. It is too replete with social meaning to be wasted until it is literally falling apart. Used clothing is still a valuable resource; it can always be strategically gift ed, used up, or exchanged for something more desirable. Unlike the plastics, metals, and glass recovered by ragpickers, textiles are rarely found among the garbage dumps for domestic waste; unwanted clothing follows a different route out of the house altogether.

Treasured pieces can be preserved for favorite younger relatives, suitable, serviceable clothes gift ed to a maid, and rags reused in the house. Used clothing is made to work, to produce value for the home. But since the liberalization of India’s economy in the early 1990s and the rising consumption of clothing and fashion, what happens to the increasing surplus of clothing that is “too good for the maid”? Women wonder what to do with the growing piles of good-quality clothing rendered unwearable by the vicissitudes of daily life, which represent too great an investment to be simply given to a servant and are too valuable to waste by leaving them sitting unused in cupboards at home. Th e mo st problematic category of all is that of old silk saris, at once the most valuable clothing in the home and potentially the most redundant.

Domestic and familial recycling of clothing, understood as a repetitive practice that can conserve both economic resources and sentimental value, is a way to extend love or protection to relatives and servants, and can also be skillfully used to negotiate status and value within these relationships. Old clothing can also be recommoditized, usually by bartering surplus clothing for pots, plates, and kitchen utensils. Such bartering is a theatrical exchange on the threshold of the home, and the moment when the most intimate of personal possessions are pared from the body and cast out of the wardrobe.

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