Congratulations to Lynne Milgram for being invited to a plenary session at the Textile Society of America biannual conference: Crosscurrents: Land, Labor and the Port, taking place at the Savannah College of Art & Design. The abstract of the presentation is included below.
Materializing Entrepreneurship and Transnationalism from Below:
A Refashioned Craft Commodity Flow in the Central Philippines
While studies of large-scale global commodity flows are extensive, analyses of globalization’s relation to the smaller scale south-north or south-south movement of goods are more limited. In Aklan province, central Philippines, for example, artisans and entrepreneurs, primarily women, use indigenous nito reed materials to fashion innovative local-to-global businesses manufacturing handmade, high-end home décor products such as place mats, baskets, and trays. These goods, produced individually by women artisans working in their homes are destined for distribution to upscale design stores throughout the Philippines, Northern Europe and North America. While the transnational trade in Aklan’s nito reed products enables local livelihoods and connects sections of societies not previously linked, the design of these new products simultaneously challenges us to rethink questions of modernity, tradition and authenticity, nationalism and ethnicity, gender, class and identity.
To understand the current reshaping of Aklan’s nito reed industry, I analyze the relations of labor flexibility, networks of trust, and ongoing product innovation at each commodity chain node among global clients, entrepreneurs, and artisans. I argue that we must see such smaller-scale material culture networks, not in isolation, but as cross-cut by other commodity flows and by socioeconomic and power relations. One cannot ignore, for example, how the viability of nito reed commodity chains are affected by overlapping articulations with global fashion trends in clothing and furniture, local supplies of raw materials, and power relations between producers and entrepreneurs. On the one hand, entrepreneurs must work with transnational buyers to continually develop new goods that can fulfill northern consumers’ changing tastes while maintaining the integrity and terroir of local Philippine production — the character that gives nito reed its indigenous caché. In this regard, entrepreneurs need to continually negotiate trade-offs with artisan producers to ensure they receive the quantity of high quality products they order. This push-pull situation provides local artisans some leverage in their requests for the volume and type of work that best facilitates their livelihoods. Such commodity chain relations illustrate the variable meanings and value nito reed goods hold for producers, entrepreneurs, and consumers. Aklan’s growing nito reed trade and the particular relations of production thus materialize a transnationism from below that challenges the common exclusion of such a localized material culture industry on the edge from analyses of destabilizing political, aesthetic, and global market forces.