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Accepted Paper:

Working with "Good Fabrics" - Making Sustainable Fashion in Ghana and Finland  
Emmi Holm (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on recent fieldwork in Ghana and Finland, this paper asks how ‘sustainability’ is defined and (re)produced in an independent fashion designer’s work. I argue that ‘sustainability’ is valued and objectified differently in Ghanaian and Finnish supply chains.

Paper long abstract:

When everything and anything can be labelled as ‘sustainable’, how are independent fashion designers navigating the materiality of their work? When and why does a piece of fabric become sustainable? I examine these questions through two very different ethnographic locales: Finland and Ghana. I argue that designers in both countries deal with systems of sustainability rather than a singular concept: on one hand, their work is evaluated against an institutionalized “sustainability”, that often carries the notions of economic growth and pursuit to maintain individual consumption habits (Moore 2017), on the other hand, their work reflects local moralities and virtues. My ethnography traces the material realities of Ghanaian and Finnish artisanal fashion brands, that produce locally, utilize expert craftsmanship and traditional techniques and, above all, market themselves as sustainable to a cosmopolite and conscious clientele. In Ghana, designers base their sustainability claims on sociality and aesthetics, as Finnish designers search for “objectively” ecological materials. While Finnish designers looked for “100 per cent sustainable fabrics”, creating individual distress due to the sheer impossibility of the task, Ghanaian designers would label a polyester shirt as sustainable, as long as the fabric itself was sourced locally and the shirt was sewed by local tailors. However, dealing with the logic of global fashion and textile circulation, the daily lives of designers in both countries were imbued with material scarcity, precarity and obscurity of reliable information. I argue that these (material) uncertainties are, in turn, used in the marketing efforts of a brand's sustainability claims.

Panel P117
Fashioning sustainability – What does “sustainable” mean for consumer product brands?
  Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -