WomenWeave Daily : "Artisan Fashion" as "Slow and Sustainable Fashion"

Abstract: As awareness has grown of the detrimental, often lethal, aspects of fashion production and use, so too has a global movement to diminish its environmental harms and mediate its social exploitation. In all types of commercial, academic, and popular discourse about fashion, words such as eco-friendly, green, ethical, fair, and slow -- the last being a catch-all term for all things “not fast fashion”-- are ubiquitous. These terms are meant to represent an array of ways of producing and using that are said or hoped to be sustainable.This research is primarily concerned with the social sustainability, or human development aspects, of artisan fashion, in the context of textile management. Artisan fashion is defined here as both product (such as a handwoven shawl), and as an evolving contemporary fashion system that typically employs rural artisans in the “developing world” to make products that are generally sold to urban, “developed world” consumers. Artisan fashion, which attempts to bridge old ways of producing with new ways of consuming, is positioned in this research as it has come to be viewed in the fashion marketplace: a subset of so-called slow and sustainable fashion. Though artisan fashion is emblematic of many slow and sustainable ideals, there is little academic questioning or understanding of how “slow” and how “sustainable” the stuff and the system that makes it actually are.This case study centers on WomenWeave, a medium-sized handloomed- textile making social enterprise in a quickly-changing small town in rural India. This producer, employing about 200 individuals, mostly women with low-education and little privilege, specializes in naya khadi, a type of apparel or furnishings fabric whose antecedent, khadi, is an integral part of the grand narrative of India’s independence movement. Founded by a “social entrepreneur” with deep and privileged roots in the community, the case is idiosyncratic, yet representative of a common market-based ideological approach to human development.A narrative, ethnographic methodology was used that included multiple field visits, observations, interviews, and participatory interactions with the case’s leadership, management, artisans, product designers, partners and experts, among others. The empirical experiences are presented, analyzed, and discussed through the lenses of Activity Theory, and an adaptation of Osterwalder and Pingeur’s Business Model Canvas.While the nomenclature of “slow and sustainable fashion” is, at least for the time being, rejected, the research shows that with professional management, the adoption of “global design” sensibilities, and other fast modernisms, the system achieves its local mission of providing incomes and fostering social inclusion.