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Supporting data for "Co-Constructing South-South Fashion"
The supporting data consists of handwritten fieldnotes and photos created during seven months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in China (in 2019) and Mozambique (in 2019 and 2021).
My thesis is based on participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and visual analysis. It examines the ways that Chinese-made garments and textiles are presented and promoted as being fashionable in everyday business interactions in Mozambique. Thereby, it explores how fashion is mediated in South–South contexts that are largely detached from Euro–American fashion systems.
Oscillating between the formal and the informal economies, South–South fashion chains stretch from the production sites in mainland China, to consumers across the African continent. At the Mozambican side of these chains, several different groups make use of their own specific strengths and advantages – be it access to capital and networks, long-term trading experience, business expertise, or an intimate knowledge of local tastes and trends – to sell Chinese-made clothes, shoes, accessories, and fabrics. These groups include established Indian traders, West African individual traders, Chinese entrepreneurs, Chinese garment and textile companies, and since recently, Mozambicans, including women, who see the availability and affordability of Chinese-made products as an opportunity to start their own businesses. These diverse actors partly complement and partly contradict each other in mediating the fashionability of Chinese-made products, while jointly constructing them as fashion. Through this unintentional co-creation, the groups selling Chinese-made garments and textiles in Mozambique exert their personal agency to carve out market niches for themselves. In doing so, they reconfigure, subvert, and instrumentalise Western-shaped notions of authenticity, and also diversify the way that fashion mediation is understood, adding a South–South perspective to it.
Furthermore, my thesis probes into the more neglected, mundane, grassroots ramifications of Chinese ambitions abroad, namely in the form of cheap, everyday garment and textile goods. It shows the potential of Chinese-made goods to stimulate local fashion cultures and illustrates the manner in which the COVID-19 pandemic has further strengthened the domination of the Mozambican market by Chinese products.
In Mozambique and China, I collected data through informal conversations with Chinese wholesalers, retailers, trade agents, and sales representatives, as well as with traders, wholesalers, shop owners, salespeople, and consumers of Mozambican and other nationalities. As a participant observer, I immersed myself in the daily lives and social settings of these informants, and observed their everyday work procedures, working conditions, and social interactions with others over more than seven months in total. To build rapport, I made sure to visit each participant regularly (some of them up to weekly) and to familiarise myself with their schedules, workloads, and habits, so my presence would not unduly interfere with their duties. Whenever possible, I also joined the leisure activities of my informants, such as lunch breaks, beach outings, day trips, church visits, and social gatherings in homes, restaurants, cafes, bars, and casinos, or at special events organised by the Chinese Association in Maputo, the Maputo Chinese Covenant Church, or the Africa–Guangdong Business Association in Guangzhou.
This approach allowed me to experience and trace the lives of the people involved in the Chinese–Mozambican garment and textile trade both on- and off-duty, thereby acquiring a more realistic and pragmatic picture of their everyday work and practices. It also enabled me to map my informants’ interactions, negotiations, and relationships with their various colleagues, clients, and competitors. Setting ethnographic accounts of their strategies, attitudes, ideas, aspirations, and struggles, in relation to their age, gender, nationality, socioeconomic status, education, and work experience, helped me to contextualise my analysis. It also provided a better understanding of the impact of various demographic and sociological factors on the extent to which different groups of people can exercise their personal agency in the shaping and creation of fashion. To grasp the workings of Chinese–Mozambican fashion exchanges, I collected and analysed a range of oral, written, statistical, and visual data in the course of my participant observation, including observations and notes of informants’ words, interactions, body language, and attitudes.
During my field research, I also conducted about 50 interviews that varied considerably in their length and depth, and their level of formality and structuredness. My interviewees consisted of garment and textile traders, wholesalers, shop owners, salespeople, and consumers of all genders, ages, and social backgrounds. While most consumers were Mozambicans, other participants were of different nationalities, including Chinese, Mozambican, Senegalese, Malian, Guinean, Ivorian, Ethiopian, Indian, and Portuguese. Therefore, the main criteria for inclusion were location, current or former profession, and engagement with Chinese-made garments and textiles. All of the interviewees were active in that area or had only recently left it. In order to obtain a well-rounded perspective on how these items are turned into fashion in Chinese–Mozambican trade, the selected sample represented a balanced mix of seniorities and job functions. I got in contact with potential interviewees in shops, malls, markets, on the street, and at events in various urban locations in Mozambique and Guangzhou. I also built on the connections I had established during my first stay in Mozambique in 2017, used the snowball method, and got in contact with people via social media. Moreover, I benefitted from the professional and personal connections of researchers at the Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos and the Centre for African Studies at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo.
For most interviews, I selected a semi-structured format with open-ended questions to facilitate free-flowing, improvisational discussion, and encourage answers of greater depth and candour. For this purpose, I usually prepared a list of topics beforehand that I would like to talk about with a particular participant, and then allowed the interview to flow organically, using the topic list as a guide whenever the discussion stalled. I interviewed most of my informants several times over the span of months or even years. These always slightly different repeat conversations allowed me to stay up-to-date with ongoing developments and to discuss any emerging issues. I sometimes made appointments for formal interviews as well, especially if I knew that an informant’s time was limited, and this would be the only opportunity for me to speak with them.
The interview topics and questions were designed and grouped around the main research objectives and questions, but were also tailored to the job profiles and descriptions of interviewees belonging to different subsectors. Therefore, the questions focused on four main aspects: the participants’ daily work processes, their perception of authenticity, the promotion and characterisation of certain items as being fashionable (which includes their perceived role in this process), and external factors of political, cultural, social, or economic nature that influence their work.
I conducted all interviews in Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, or English, at the interviewees’ workplaces or homes, or in public spaces, such as restaurants, kiosks, and bars, at their convenience. The duration of the interviews also depended on the participants and their availability, but typically lasted between 30 and 90 minutes. I usually relied exclusively on hand-written interview notes in order to maintain an informal and natural atmosphere.