Informal Global Networks
While the global assembly line and mass consumption form the dominant circuits of globalized fashion, other, less visible circuits span the globe. These shadow networks concern fashion production and consumption in third-world countries. The global economy of high-tech, large-scale networks also works by exclusion. In third-world countries, globalization has resulted in the destabilizing and dismantling of official economies, massive unemployment, and the rise of informal or underground economies. As part of the restructuring and deregulation of global capital, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have imposed on debtor nations in the third world Structural Adjustment Programs. These programs dismantled state economic controls on basic necessities and social programs for health, education, housing, and sanitation, in favor of free-market strategies, austerity programs, and privatization of basic utilities like electricity and water. These measures have resulted in a disintegration of formal institutions of the government and economy. Out of desperation, people have devised means of surviving in informal economic networks. In Africa and Latin America, this has had two effects on fashion.
One is that the numbers of artisanal producers, especially tailors, dyers, weavers, and jewelry makers, have increased dramatically. In an alternative global network, suitcase vendors sell to tourists, or they travel to diasporic communities in Europe and the United States, where they sell their fashions in people’s homes, at ethnic festivals, or on the street. They also sell in the boutiques and on the Web sites of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping third-word artisans.
A second effect concerns global networks of used-clothing dealers and consumers. Large wholesalers buy masses of used clothing from charity thrift shops such as Goodwill in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In giant warehouses, dealers sort the clothes, bale them, and send them by container to smaller wholesalers in countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Small retailers then sell the clothes for affordable prices at open-air stalls in cities and tiny rural towns. Jeans, T-shirts, and athletic shoes thus become the most visible symbol of globalization in virtually every corner of the world.