How can interdisciplinary scholars decolonize the fashion industry? How does digital fashion labor build on older forms of racially gendered immigrant labor? And is it possible to critically study and teach an industry you love but also know is deeply flawed and in desperate need of an overhaul?
In episode 1 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach talks with feminist fashion studies scholar Minh-Ha T. Pham about her new book on elite Asian fashion bloggers and racialized (unpaid) blogging labor, the politics and pleasure of fashion, why researchers shouldn’t be afraid to study what they love, and how academics can use blogs to create engaged scholarship and develop their public intellectual voice.
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Guest: Minh-Ha T. Pham
Minh-Ha T. Pham is an assistant professor of media studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
Minh-Ha is the author of the new book Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging (which Ideas on Fire edited and indexed!), which is the first book ever that critically investigates the personal style blogosphere, and it examines the phenomenal rise of elite Asian bloggers who have made a career of posting photographs of themselves wearing clothes on the Internet.
She is also the co-author of the feminist fashion studies blog Threadbared (with Mimi Nguyen), and the author of the blog Of Another Fashion, which highlights the often-erased fashion histories and practices of women of color.
We chatted about
- The links between elite Asian superbloggers and Asian garment workers as both fashion laborers (1:52)
- How fashion capitalism builds on long histories of racially gendered labor (3:49)
- Why and how scholars shouldn’t be afraid to study what they love (7:20)
- The role of fashion studies in the academy (8:15)
- The exploitation of unpaid blogging labor (14:04)
- How and why to maintain blogs while on the tenure track and on the academic job market (19:04)
- Academic temporality versus blogging temporality (23:12)
- The art/activism/academia braid (24:15)
Asia’s increasing role in the global fashion industry
Race, gender, and class in this labor market are changing in the context of digital labor and in what people are calling the ‘new Asian decade’ or ‘the Asian century’ where we’re seeing parts of Asia, particularly China and Thailand rising as a global economic and commercial force.
Critically studying something you loves
It’s easy to disparage fashion because it has a lot of problems—its race problem, its body imagery problem, its class problem, its crass commercialism sometimes. It has a lot of problems. And I see all that. But I also wanted to think about the ways in which fashion does things for people individually but also does things in social ways that are positive.
People always say “write the book you wanted to read.” I wanted to think about fashion in terms of race in particular and power more generally.
Decolonizing the fashion archive
If you go to the fashion museum or any mainstream fashion archive, you see nothing but luxury brands and white women’s bodies in these clothes. I wanted to decolonize the fashion historical imaginary.
Blogging as public intellectualism
It’s because of Threadbared that I discovered my voice and discovered how to be a writer, even more so than in grad school….Threadbared was engaged scholarship. We took our training as ethnic studies grad students and we tried to apply it to these real things that were happening in the world. In doing so, and because of Threadbared’s increasing popularity and because of folks at Jezebel and at Colorlines and other people that were really supportive…we found we were intervening in the mainstream popular discourse about fashion.
Especially for women, and women of color, “I want” is not what you’re raised [to ask]. It’s about how do you help other people and how do you self-sacrifice, etc…I want a more just world. I want a fairer world for not only all people, but also especially because of my background, for immigrants, for people of color, for women of color especially, for girls of color.
More from Minh-Ha T. Pham
- Minh-Ha’s book Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging
- Minh-Ha’s website
- Minh-Ha’s blog Of Another Fashion
- Minh-Ha’s and Mimi Nguyen’s blog Threadbared
- Mimi Nguyen, feminist/critical fashion studies/Asian American studies scholar
Projects and people discussed
- Alice Marwick
- Nan Enstad’s book Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
- Mimi Nguyen
- Imagine Otherwise podcast interview with Mimi Nguyen, episode 25
- Hyphen Magazine
- Colorlines Magazine
- UC Berkeley’s Ethnic Studies Department
- Comparative ethnic studies concentration
- China: Through the Looking Glass, Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit
- Dorothy Allison
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
Cathy Hannabach [00:03]: [upbeat music in background] Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach. [music fadeout]
[00:23] Welcome to the first episode of the Imagine Otherwise podcast. We kick off the podcast with our first guest, Minh-Ha T. Pham, who is an assistant professor of media studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Minh-Ha is a truly interdisciplinary cultural producer as her academic research, her public writing, and her two awesome critical fashion blogs Of Another Fashion and Threadbared both push for a more critical conceptual framework of fashion, particularly in relationship to racially gendered labor.
She’s the author of the new book Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging, which is the first book ever to critically investigate the personal style blogosphere, examining the phenomenal rise of elite Asian bloggers who have made a career of posting photographs of themselves wearing clothes on the internet today. Minh-Ha is going to be talking with us about her new book, fashion bloggers of color, and what it means to imagine otherwise.
[To Minh-Ha] So welcome. I’m excited that you’re here.
Minh-Ha T. Pham [01:27]: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Cathy [01:32]: So let’s just dive right in. Your fabulous new book Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging was just published by Duke University Press. Can you tell me a little bit about that book?
Minh-Ha [01:46]: Yeah. Well, I think of it as adding to but also expanding the scholarship that’s already been done on Asian fashion workers. I come from an Asian American studies background and the labor conditions of Asian fashion workers are something that I studied and I know a lot about. We know of course that for the most part these workers became a visible presence in the fashion labor market in around 1970s and 1980s. And we know about, of course, sweatshop conditions. We know that there’s a lot of exploitation, there’s a lot of abuse, and so on.
But the book that I wrote thinks about a different group of Asian fashion workers who are actually elite. The bloggers that I’m looking at, I call superbloggers because they’re really the top not even 1 percent but the top .01 percent of bloggers who are actually making money, who are actually making a living, a really handsome living wearing clothes on the internet.
[03:06] I wanted to think about how race and gender and class in this particular labor market is changing or maybe not changing in this context: in the context of digital labor and also the context of what people are calling the “Asian decade” and for some people, the “Asian century.” What we’re seeing in parts of Asia, particularly China and Thailand, is their rising as a global economic and commercial force.
So for race and gender and capitalism in the context of fashion, how is that creating new opportunities for rewards and work for Asian fashion workers? And in what ways are we seeing the same kinds of race and gender dynamics? The class dynamics are totally different because again, we’re talking about an elite group. So that’s the premise of the book. That’s what I was really interested in: thinking about the Asian fashion worker who is not part of the industrial manufacturing sectors but is part of the creative, digital, informational sector.
Cathy [04:29]: That’s fascinating. Those two groups never get talked about together, right? We always get one or the other story, but you’re thinking about those two radically different class positions that are of course produced by each other and enabled by each other. You’re thinking about those together. That’s fantastic.
Minh-Ha [04:49]: Yeah, we don’t think about them together because…well, for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons is that fashion’s race problem, which is well documented and well known. So when we think about fashionable bodies, we tend to think of white women’s bodies and that’s a fair assessment of the fashion industry because that’s part of its visual economy, which is still very much dominated by whiteness.
But Asian elite bloggers have this kind of strange position because of the photographs that they’re taking of themselves (mostly) and a lot of other people are now taking photographs of them. They’ve become what Alice Marwick would call microcelebrities and in some ways even macrocelebrities. We’re seeing this new group of fashionable, mostly women but not always, bodies that are not white. And I think that’s still something that we’re not used to thinking about even as scholars who work on fashion.
Cathy [06:03] Why, why fashion? Why fashion blogging? I think you make a fantastic case for the way that fashion lets you trace some of these broader cultural trends, but so often fashion, both in terms public discourse but also in the academy often gets dismissed as frivolous, as feminized, as uninteresting, or even kind of oppressive in a patriarchal sense. So what drew you to fashion and what drew you particularly to thinking about fashion critically, but in terms of both its pleasures and its problems?
Minh-Ha [06:41]: I’ll just say at the start that one of the things that was a real draw for me with fashion is that I actually just like it. I like clothes, I like shopping. I like really the art and the craft of fashion. And I say that because I think, as you just mentioned, the pleasure of fashion is really important to consider critically but also my own position with regard to fashion as a scholar. So I want to say that upfront.
When you come to your research objects through that place of admiration and love, then I think that they beg new questions. I see this all the time. It’s easy to disparage fashion because it’s got a lot of problems: its race problem, its body imagery problem, its class problem. It’s commercial, it’s crass commercialism sometimes. It’s got a lot of problems and I see all of that. But I also wanted to think about the ways in which fashion does things for people individually but also does things in social ways that are positive. So it makes you feel good, for example.
[08:03] So that’s one reason. I would say the other reason that I was interested in fashion, the more critical reason that I was interested in fashion, is because it is an under-respected site of research. It’s actually not an underexamined field anymore. Fashion studies is really emerging as a discipline that you see not only in the United States but also all over the world. I go to fashion studies conferences in places like Sweden and I’ll be going to Australia soon. So fashion studies itself is now a discipline that we recognize.
[09:18] But one of the things about fashion studies as such is that scholars don’t often have a race analysis and I think that’s really important because fashion capitalism has historically relied on immigrant labor, whether that immigrant labor is Eastern European or Latino or Asian or African. So I think that that race analysis and that analysis of geopolitical power relationships are really, really important.
People always say, “You write the book that you wanted to read.” And I definitely wanted to think about fashion in terms of race particularly and power more generally.
There are a couple of labor studies, feminist labor studies, that I really love, Nan Instad’s work [Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century] being taught most among them. I really love her book and it’s a really important model for me in terms of my own thinking, but thinking about the kind of agency that Instad brings to the workers that she’s looking at, we don’t see that often with Asian fashion workers.
[10:22] Oftentimes they’re represented in the scholarship and in popular media as victims—almost always. I wanted to think about elite bloggers, which gave me an opportunity to think about their agency because they have a lot of agency and they have a lot of power and resources, certainly more than garment workers and fashion workers in the industrial sectors do. I also wanted to think about how race impacts this kind of fashion work in ways that have not yet been studied or really even thought about.
Cathy [11:04] I have a couple questions. So the idea of agency and it being really easy to identify the kind of large amount of agency and privilege that super elite super bloggers have makes that obviously a kind of a really great site for research. But do you see something similar playing out with agency among non-elite style bloggers, among the personal style bloggers who are part of the queer blogosphere, or the femme blogosphere, or the fat-positive blogosphere? Do you see those same kinds of tensions playing out in those contexts?
Minh-Ha [11:44]: Absolutely. One of the things that I say in the book is that these bloggers, these elite Asian superbloggers I’m looking at, are not victims by any stretch of the imagination. They have a lot of power. They have a lot of resources. Often they come from privileged backgrounds (not always, but a lot of them do). The fact that they’re English-speaking gives them a lot of privilege in a global fashion industry where English is still the lingua franca. So in that way they have a lot of agency. But they are also racially scrutinized because they are a minority. They are in a numerical minority in the larger blogs for sure. But even in the elite blogosphere they are a numerical minority—they just happened to be at the very top.
[12:34] So I think that the difference between elite bloggers and non-elite fashion bloggers is a difference of degree. The kinds of pleasure and the kind of benefits that they get from blogging, connecting with other likeminded people or creating taste communities that don’t exist in mainstream fashion media or even mainstream fashion markets. That kind of thing. Being able to do that has real benefits that I think that a lot of bloggers would say that they would do regardless of whether or not they can actually make a living blogging. Those kinds of emotional and also social benefits are worth it, right? So the elite bloggers and the non-elite bloggers share that. What the non elite bloggers don’t have is the same kinds of opportunities for design collaborations or advertising collaborations or modeling or side income streams that elite bloggers have. And it’s those side income streams that allow them to actually make a living at blogging.
[14:02] The other thing that elite bloggers and non-elite bloggers share though is that they’re both being in some ways exploited. So even while the elite bloggers are making sometimes even six figures, that money pales in comparison to the money that they’re generating—the financial capital but also the kind of cultural capital, the social capital, the informational capital—for the brands that they’re talking about, the brands that they’re blogging about. And not all bloggers have the same kind of relationship to these brands and the social media platforms and softwares that they’re using. They’re also generating capital store for tech companies, for example. Elite bloggers make a little bit back, but non-elite bloggers don’t. So I think again, it’s a matter of degree. I don’t think that the elite bloggers are necessarily evading or skirting or getting around the exploitative conditions that are actually built into blogging.
Cathy [15:27]: Yeah. And it also makes them both workers, right? That’s something that you highlight in the book about this kind of performed labor as a blogger. As you point out, even if you are an elite superblogger and you make a little bit of it back, which might be for the rest of us a fairly large amount of money, but that’s still labor. It’s labor that isn’t being conceptualized by the companies as labor, so they’re not treated as workers and therefore don’t have the kinds of rights that workers have or at least have the ability to struggle for because they’re not marked as official labor or employees. Therefore they don’t have access to the same kind of protections or rights that officially designated workers do. That’s fantastically smart.
Minh-Ha [16:15]: No, they don’t. They don’t have that official labor relationship with the brands that they’re talking about or blogging about. But also, they aren’t perceived as workers even by their readers who may love them. So even the most elite bloggers who are well read, have tons of traffic, and are loved aren’t seen as workers. Their readers are used to getting to read their blog and looking at their Instagram photos and are used to benefiting from their labor without paying for it because they don’t recognize it as labor. If any of the bloggers were to say, “Okay, well I’m going to have a subscription-only blog,” things would change and they would actually be seen by their readers as opportunists, as greedy, or whatever.
[17:15] In the book I also talk about how some of the bloggers have complained that their readers are really demanding and often demanding in really impolite ways (I don’t know if you can be demanding in polite ways). They’re asking for more blog posts, asking for more pictures, wondering what’s happening and what’s the slowdown in their productivity about. So even the readers who actually enjoy and benefit from the blogs don’t necessarily see them as workers.
And the bloggers themselves often don’t represent themselves as workers. So there’s a lot of, “I do this for the love of fashion, I do this for the love of community, I do this for the love of connecting,” which is to say “I’m not doing it for the money.” That undercuts them and this is true of the superbloggers and the non-elite bloggers. The social media world is about representing your authentic, your genuine self, and a lot of that has become about representing your genuine self not just in the fashion blogosphere but in a lot of different contexts as artists rather than as workers
18:34] And I think that part of it, at least for the elite bloggers, is also part of their value. They don’t want, especially for the Asian superbloggers, to represent themselves as workers or they’d veer too close to that other Asian fashion worker, which is not at all glamorous, which is not at fashionable.
Cathy [19:03]: So given these labor politics of blogging and the unrecognized labor that goes into blogging, I want to actually turn to your own blogging practices because after all, you don’t just study this. You don’t just kind of write books about this as a scholar, but you also maintain two blogs yourself, two critical fashion studies blogs. I don’t know if you would necessarily refer to them as personal style blogs as they’re a little bit different and I’d love to hear more about that. But what is it like maintaining those blogs, both the Threadbared blog that you coauthor with Mimi Nguyen as well as your other blog Of Another Fashion, which highlights the often erased fashioned histories and practices of women of color. Have you found that some of those same labor politics or tensions show up in your work on those blogs?
Minh-Ha [19:56]: Yeah, absolutely. To be honest, I don’t actually maintain Threadbared anymore. It’s been a long time since we’ve posted anything new. And part of the reason is that Mimi was finishing her book [The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages] and she was also undergoing tenure review. Our lives changed a lot as Threadbared continue to grow. I was looking for a job for a good part of the first part of Threadbared and then I found a job, got on the tenure track, and had to learn how to be on the tenure track. So we haven’t posted anything new in a long time.
[20:40] Threadbared took a lot of work and it was all a labor of love. We did get some emails from people asking if they could post ads on Threadbared and we declined all of them. We weren’t opposed to monetizing the blog, but we just didn’t. The advertisers that we were getting just didn’t work for us. So we never got paid for anything. As Threadbared became more popular, we were posting more frequently. We got so much out of it, we got a lot out of it together. Also we met so many amazing people through Threadbared, including the folks from Colorlines and Hyphen, I mean just all over the place. So it was a really great experience, but it was time-consuming. And when it came down to our actual day jobs, Threadbared just took a back seat.
[21:45] Of Another Fashion is a little different because it’s a crowdsourced. I think of it as a crowdsourced archive. So through Threadbared I asked people to send me photographs of their families or people that they knew, women of color in the United States, who were wearing really fashionable clothes, who saw themselves as fashionable people, who were into fashion. I really was thinking about how to decolonize the fashion archive. If you go to a fashion museum, if you go to any mainstream fashion archive, you see nothing but luxury brands and you see nothing but white women’s bodies in these clothes. I wanted to decolonize the fashion historical imaginary and think about how women of color have been in the United States for a long time and being the pervasive cultural force that they are, they participated and they were interested in fashion and maybe even were fashioned leaders.
[22:48] So Of Another Fashion is in some ways easier to maintain because it’s a group effort, it’s a collective effort. There are times when I get tons of photographs and there times when there’s a lull, so it’s not something that I have to focus on all the time. Threadbared was much more hands-on. Another thing we were doing with Threadbared was responding to current events that were happening in fashion: cultural appropriation, racism, etc. That became really tiring where we felt like we were beholden to the 24-hour media cycle. We’re both academics and academic temporality is much different. There’s time to think. There’s time to draft. Threadbared is a very different kind of a very different kind of thing, but I loved working on Threadbared. I often tell people that it’s because of Threadbared that I discovered my voice and actually discovered how to be a writer—even more so than in grad school.
Cathy [24:04]: Awesome. So this brings me to something that I definitely want to talk about. It’s the theme of the podcast, which is this braid between art, activism, and academia. The work that you produce in all these different spaces and all these different mediums is such a fantastic example of that. So why do you do that and how do you see that contributing to some kind of broader social justice project?
Minh-Ha [24:35]: Yeah. Before I knew the terms engaged scholarship or public scholarship, I actually think that Threadbared was already doing that. We took our training as ethnic studies scholars, as ethnic studies students at the time, grad students, and we tried to apply it to real things that were happening in the world. Threadbared got increasing popular and folks at Jezebel and at Colorlines and other people were really supportive and would syndicate some of our blog posts or even just linked to them. We actually found that we were intervening in some way in the mainstream popular discourse about fashion. All of a sudden, places like Jezebel, that’s owned by Gawker, and other bigger media places were talking about race, taking race seriously in fashion and taking class and capitalism and, and ideas about power seriously. And I think that we had a lot to do with that. I don’t say that very often but I think that Threadbared had a lot to do with shifting the mainstream discourse about fashion. Threadbared was a really well-known research blog on fashion and I think we did a lot to add to the conversation and also shape the conversation.
[26:18] If I had to guess, I think that my background at [the University of California,] Berkeley [had something to do with it.] I graduated from the Comparative Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley and that department has a strong activist history. Certainly, the idea of bridging the activist/scholarship divide is something that is very much a part of the culture.
I wanted to do work, to do academic work, that actually mattered to people and not just academics, that actually was thinking about if not solving the real problems that were happening. Again, fashion is one of those sites that people dismiss as frivolous or as unimportant and yet it’s pervasive. It’s a multibillion-dollar global industry. It employs tons of people all over the place. Its labor conditions are worth thinking about.
[27:22] I also wanted to make fashion better in some ways, probably because I love it. I want it to be better. I want it to be an industry and a cultural sphere that I actually am proud of and one I’m not always angry at it. I am angry at fashion a lot. I think I want it to make it better.
Cathy [27:58]: That’s a fantastic reason. That actually dovetails nicely into my favorite question that I get to ask guests, which gets at the heart of the work you do and the heart of the work that this podcast is highlighting, which is your vision of a better world—that kind of world that you’re working towards when you create, when you teach your classes, when you publish your books, when you create your blogs. There’s a Dorothy Allison quote that exemplifies the power of naming that kind of social justice desire that I really love. She says, “Revolutions start when people look each other in the eye, say ‘I want’ and mean it.” I know, isn’t that powerful? So what’s that world that you’re working towards? What do you want?
Minh-Ha [28:51]: It’s such a great quote. It’s also so hard. It takes a lot of bravery, a lot of courage to do that, especially for women and women of color, where it’s not actually what you want, right? It’s about how do you help other people and how do you self-sacrifice, etc. And so that’s a really great quote.
What do I want through my teaching and through my research? That’s a really hard question to answer. I know I’m sounding a little bit like a beauty pageant contestant, but I want a more just world. I want a fair world, for not only all but, especially because of my background, for immigrants, for people of color, for women of color, especially for girls of color.
[29:51] Part of what I do in the classroom is I try to give my students the language in which to talk about discrimination, in which to talk about power relationships, and also in which I can help them think about it, help them process it. I try to do that through my writing too. And so, how do we talk about power in a site like fashion where power is pervasive and yet often concealed by language, like through discourses about beauty and about craft. These gloss over power. So what I want is to help people think through and to give people a language and a perspective and a framework to think about how to be more fair.
I will say that has become much more personal to me now that I have a young son. He’s two years old and I want things to be fair. Life will not be fair for him but I want things to be just a little bit more fair. I want things to be a little bit more easy for him than it has been for other people.
Cathy [31:21] That’s a fantastic goal. I love that. I want that world to. Are you working on any new projects stemming from some of those goals or you still reeling from the brand-new book you just put out?
Minh-Ha [31:36]: No, I’m ready. I’m ready to think about other things and to write new books. I’m in the very early stages of a new book project that is intervening on the debates recently about fashion and copyright, in particular the fashion knockoff. There’s been all kinds of noise about particularly Chinese fashion knockoffs and fashion counterfeits. I want to think about the ways in which that debate is actually not a legal debate because fashion design is not actually copyright protected. There are some kind of legal protections but they’re weak and they’re often ineffective. But I’m thinking about the ways in which we understand the common sense around what is a fashion counterfeit and what is fashion that’s inspired—that kind of dialectic and how that binary is actually not a legal construct.
[32:43] So in the next book I’m trying to trace how that construction came about, what it means, and what the implications are in thinking about race, gender, class, and power. The other part of this trajectory is also to think about how participatory media has either helped or not helped so much these ideas about what is a creative act and what is a criminal act. So thinking about whether or not participatory media is actually democratizing discourse or not
Cathy [33:22]: Fascinating. Is that different or related to the ways that cultural appropriation works? It seems like those are the conversations and those two things don’t tend to intersect. So what is the difference, for instance, between the discourse about supposed knockoffs and the reification of this supposed authenticity, this kind of aura of the supposed original, which is usually produced by a wealthy, white, usually US-based or at least European-based fashion designer that supposedly is copied by somebody who’s not that kind of body. So that’s one public discourse or debate, right? But it often doesn’t seem to intersect with the kind of debates about cultural appropriation where the original or the authentic is coming from a space of marginality that then gets appropriated into the mainstream. How do those two things intersect? Are you looking at that at all or is this beyond the scope of the book?
Minh-Ha [34:30]: No, absolutely, you’ve totally nailed it. That’s exactly what I’m interested in. Why are these conversations so bifurcated? What does that mean when both of them are examples of copying, but one copying is considered a creative act of originality and one is considered not. So when cultural appropriation happens, and we saw this recently at the Met with the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit. No one was talking about counterfeiting, nobody was talking about knockoffs. Everybody was talking about inspiration. Inspiration was sort of the keyword and yet in other contexts when, say, Chinese manufacturers are also inspired by European designers or American designers, they’re considered knockoffs. What they’re doing is considered a criminal act. So this is part of my thinking about how did these ideas about the counterfeit, the knockoff, and the inspired by get constructed. How are these cultural constructions, and how did this happen? When did this happen?
[35:34] Copying is part of fashion. Fashion is a copying culture. In fact, the New York fashion industry would not be anything without copying. During its rise in the early 20th century, it was all about copying. So when did copying become seen as a deviant thing? How did it get racialized as something that, for example, Chinese manufacturers do or the Chinese vendors on Canal Street do? When did that happen? And what does it mean about race and capitalism and authorship when only white bodies, only white designers are copying? How does that become something that’s still a practice of exceptionality? Cultural appropriation has occupied the state of exceptionality because it’s copying, but it’s still seen as original. So how does that happen? So those are the ideas that I’m working through in the next book.
Cathy [36:43]: Well, I’m excited for you to figure that out and I’m excited to read it. But for now, where can we find you online and where can people buy your fabulous new book Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet?
Minh-Ha [36:56]: The book is available everywhere books are available as far as I can tell. Certainly you can buy it at the Duke University Press website, but it’s really everywhere. I believe I have a Pratt [Institute] faculty webpage, but also I have my own personal webpage and that’s at http://minhha-t-pham.strikingly.com
Cathy [37:24]: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the Imagine Otherwise podcast and telling us all kinds of fantastic stuff about critical fashion histories and sharing material from your new book.
Minh-Ha [37:39] Thanks so much, Cathy. This is really fun.
Cathy [37:42]: Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Editing for this episode was done by Julie Lenard. Make sure to check out our website ideasonfire.net for show notes, episodes, and links to the books, projects, and people we discuss. You can also subscribe to the Imagine Otherwise podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcast players.