Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Gendering Fashion, Fashioning Fur: On the (Re)production of a Gendered Labor Market within a Craft Industry in Transition

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Gendering Fashion, Fashioning Fur: On the (Re)production of a Gendered Labor Market within a Craft Industry in Transition

Article excerpt

Abstract. What are the implications of the new economy for gender equality in labor markets? Does an economy that privileges 'immaterial' labor (the production of ideas) over 'material' labor (the manual production of goods) signal the possibility for greater labor market inclusion? Building on critical accounts of the new economy, I examine the bases for continued gender hierarchies through an analysis of the contemporary restructuring of the fur industry in Canada. As a traditional craft industry, fur has sought to adapt to new-economy imperatives by incorporating 'immaterial' labor in the form of fashion design. However, these efforts have been limited, as the (predominantly male) fur manufacturers have sought to retain authority in a changing economy by integrating design as a subordinate activity--a subordination made possible through a coding of design as feminine and through the deployment of the fashion designer as a flexible source of labor. Drawing on interviews with manufacturers, designers, and other industry actors, I analyze how new-economy imperatives intersect with local institutional practices and ideologies to reproduce a gendered labor market.

Keywords: gender, fashion, fur, labor markets, new economy

Introduction

Many scholars contend that since the late 20th century we have been witnessing the emergence of a new phase of capitalism in advanced industrial countries. Prompted by the rise of information technologies, globalization, and the segmentation of mass markets, this new phase is said to represent a shift away from the Fordist mode of mass production centered on 'material' labor (ie, the manual production of things) to a post-Fordist mode centered on 'immaterial' labor (ie, the production of ideas, images, affects, and relationships) and on the provision of design-intensive commodities (Hardt and Negri, 2004; Lazzarato, 1996; Scott, 2007). This new economic phase is in turn raising questions about the nature of contemporary labor markets and the prospects for gender equality within those markets. An optimistic view suggests that the decline of (predominantly male) factory work and the crumbling of the rigid hierarchies of the Fordist corporation or union hold out the promise for greater labor market equality (Beck, 1992; Giddens, 1991), with new forms of creative, immaterial work offering more meritocratic opportunities (Florida, 2002). More critical accounts, however, demonstrate that the promise of a 'detraditionalization' of work has not been realized in practice (Banks and Milestone, 2011; McDowell, 2004). Women still face significant barriers to employment security and career advancement, as the lived experience of work is shaped by the convergence of broader economic imperatives and local institutional cultures (in the form of norms and practices) in ways that reproduce gender hierarchies. To better understand contemporary forms of labor market organization and exclusion, further analysis is needed of how the dialectic between culture and the economy is defining what kind of work--and worker--is valued today.

In this paper this challenge is taken up through an examination of efforts to restructure the fur industry in Canada. I look at attempts on the part of a local trade association and a foreign design centre to infuse creativity in this traditional industry by encouraging collaborations between (predominantly male) fur manufacturers and (predominantly female) fashion designers. The crux of the analysis is on the limits to these efforts, as fur manufacturers seek to retain authority in a context of restructuring through a relegation of fashion design within the production process--a relegation made possible through a gendering of design.

An examination of a mature industry like fur provides an interesting lens through which to explore the gendering of post-Fordist labor markets, particularly as the literature on mature industries with regards to this theme is lacking. …

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