Accepted paper:

Innovation-cum-precarity in Istanbul's garment market: new strategies and settings of uncertainty


Luisa Piart (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

The death of Istanbul's clothing industry has been repeatedly predicted in the last decade. Small actors seem to enhance its survival at their own expense, through contingent and noxious innovations. The contribution focuses on their critical subjectivities in order to scrutinize this conundrum.

Paper long abstract:

The current configuration of Istanbul's clothing industry is informed by profound structural changes and important tensions. Turkey is among the world's top five garment exporters. But in spite of these economic performances and unlike other important economic sectors in Turkey, most apparel firms in Istanbul are small size, highly disintegrated and specialized. Marketing strategies that became very popular in the 1990s in international apparel retailing had indeed far-reaching consequences in Istanbul. The so-called "fast fashion" retailers -such as Topshop, Zara, H&M and Mango- abandoned the traditional two-season calendar and turned to continuous production schedules. Since the 2000s Turkish suppliers have to run up smaller batches at shorter notice. They used to turn retailers' designs into finished products and are today increasingly involved in design. My contribution examines the innovative strategies implemented by different actors of the clothing industry in Istanbul in order to cope with this rapidly changing environment. I argue that the current settings of uncertainty force them to make decisions that both shape Istanbul's garment industry into a market and perform its stability at different scales. Nonetheless these decisions also contribute to blur the division between distribution and production, and simultaneously increase the erosion, informality and precarity of their own working conditions. Based on the ethnographic material collected in Istanbul in 2008-2009 for my dissertation, I intend to question the emergence of these critical subjectivities in Istanbul's clothing market.

panel P011
Innovation and continuity in times of uncertainty: bridging perspectives on economic life