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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

The Decline, Fall and Fetishisation of African Clothing Industries Seminar

17 April 2013
Shackleton Building 44, Lecture Theatre B

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Dr Julian Leyland at .

Event details

Semester 2 seminar

At independence many African countries had infant clothing industries, which were expected to enable modernisation and economic take-off. However, this sector has been in long-term decline since the implementation of economic liberalization policies in the early 1980s. Domestic markets for locally produced clothing have fallen away. Reduced purchasing power and the opening of African markets to cheap new clothing as well as used-clothing imports decreased local demand. A boost to African clothing export production resulted from preferential trade agreements in the early 2000s, with mixed economic and social results. Rather than providing modern industrial development akin to European and North American experiences, clothing industries offered jobs which were casual and poorly paid and the sector struggled to compete internationally. More recently, ethical fashion production has emerged as a development strategy. These businesses depend upon a more conscious social relation between African production and western consumption. Ethical manufacturing re-works the commodity fetish and draws upon a romantic commodification of the act of production in ‘exotic’ African locations, by ‘deserving’ craftspeople to enable products to be retailed for a premium price. Using examples from Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia this paper explores how the clothing sector in Africa have changed in the last half a century. African clothing industries have gone from being part of national modernising development strategies in the early independence era, to increasing fetishised niche production systems serving consumers interests in the Global North.

Speaker information

Dr Andrew Brooks, King's College London. Development Geography

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