Skip to site navigation

Global Denim Project

Dedicated to Understanding the Phenomenon of Global Denim - its History, Extent, Economics, and Consequences

The global denim project is based on what collectively we regard as a very simple question, but that we suspect has a very profound answer. Our research suggests that on any day the majority of the world’s population is wearing just one textile – Denim. We want to know why?

We regard denim as an example of the 'blindingly obvious', something so taken for granted we fail to appreciate the fact that one particular textile should come to dominate the world when there are so many other choices. Although there is designer denim, most of this expansion has been cheap denim, and given that the dominant style has changed little in over a century, denim’s triumph must be as much despite commerce as because of it.

Denim Globe

The project was launched through a paper called A Manifesto for a Study of Denim, (Social Anthropology 2007 15: 335-351 by Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward).

Daniel is based at the Department of Anthropology, University College London and Sophie is based at the Department of Sociology, University of Manchester. The paper argued that the fact that blue jeans are the only garment commonly sold as distressed, that it has become the default choice when people are worried what to wear, that is the worlds most ubiquitous garment and also often the most personal, are not a coincidence. It is the combination of these points that help towards an explanation in general terms of how people use denim as part of their struggle to reconcile the universal and intimate aspects of their lives.

The Manifesto also argued for a unique approach to the further study of denim. That if we want to understand both the cause and the consequences of this global phenomenon then this meant we needed a huge programme of research, combining many different forces. Instead of academics choosing their next topic because no one else was studying it we suggested that over the next five years people choose to study an aspect of denim because so many other people will work on the same topic at the same time. The model is loosely based on an ideal of 'open source' in that we are not an institution (we also have no funds) and all the projects are autonomous.

One product of this loose collaboration is this website where individual projects can introduce themselves. A further publication, Global Denim, edited by Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward, published by Berg in 2010, offers in-depth analysis of many of the research projects involved in this project. This shows how historical perspectives and anthropological perspectives can contribute to each others in this wider task of accounting for denim and demonstrating the consequences of global denim. It tackles topics ranging from recycling denim to denim in Bollywood all derived from the projects listed on this site. A special issue of the journal Textile is planned for next year. In addition we are working on a plan to create a true open source on line encyclopaedia of all things denim. Although we have over twenty projects here, we feel this is just the start, so if you want to be part of something that takes it energy simply from our enthusiasm for the topic and our willingness to collaborate, then by all means get in touch.

Below are listed some current and potential Denim research projects.

1.) Ethical Denim in Sweden. Current research by Emma Lindblad, Stockholm University.

2.) Jeans in Kannur, Kerala. A photographic essay by Daniel Miller.

3.) London Denim. Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward are conducting an ethnographic study of why people wear denim on an anonymous street in North London.

4.) Denim in Bollywood, India. Current research by Clare Wilkinson-Weber on the diversions of denim in Bollywood film.

5.) Imperial Denim in the US. Sandra Curtis Comstock on the place of blue jeans in the consolidation and transformation of American power in the 20th century.

6.) Brazilian Jeans. Current research project by Mylene Mizrahi on Brazilian jeans and funk.

7.) Fashionmap. A project by Sophie Woodward based in Nottingham on denim in street fashion with plans to develop further work in several countries around the world.

hsbc

8.) Denim Branding as Technology in Turkey. Project by Eminegul Karababa, lecturer in marketing at Exeter University, on the importation of denim branding as a technology, and the development of Eastern markets. 

9.) Kojima, the Jeans town in Japan. Philomena Keet investigates jeans production and consumption in the town of Kojima, ‘denim Mecca’, and its regional branding campaign, designed to boost both tourism and industry. 

10.) Personal uniforms of Denim in the UK. Project by Fiona Jane Candy of many years looking at denim, design and body movement.

11.) Denim Jeans: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Narratives and Materiality. This project explores different methodologies for investigating denim jeans, through an interdisciplinary collaboration between the School of Social Sciences and the School of Materials at the University of Manchester. The investigators, Sophie Woodward, Chris Carr, Pammi Sinha, Muriel Rigout, and Kanchana Dissanayake, aim to develop innovative ways of combining research methods into material culture, using disciplinary expertise in sociology and materials' analysis. 

12.) Indigo Bodies in Italy. A number of research initiatives focussed on the use of Denim Jeans in relation to gender, sexuality and eroticism are being developed and coordinated by Roberta Sassatelli in Milan. Further projects are also being carried out collaboratively. These are Blue Twenties: Jeans in Milan, with Simona Ettori, Favorite Jeans and Self Perception, with Federica Galeazzi and Jeans, Masculinity and Sexuality with Daniele Pilloni.

13.) Denim Cosmology in China. This proposed research by Tom McDonald will use concepts from Chinese philosophy such as that of shi to explore different forms of movement in relation to denim in China, including the denim commodity chain and the transformation from Mao suits.

14.) Fake Denim in China and Brazil. This project is carried out by Rosana Pinheiro-Machado.

15.) Denim Shoddy. Project by Lucy Norris and Bodil Olesen on denim waste and shoddy.

16.) Jeans in Socialist Hungary. Ferenc Hammer undertakes historical research into the place of denim during the socialist and post-socialist period. See also Ferenc H. (forthcoming), 'Sartorial Manoeuvres in the Dusk: Blue Jeans in Socialist Hungary', in K. Soper and F. Trentmann (eds.) Citizenship and Consumption, Palgrave Macmillan.

17.) Brazilian Samba Jeans. Szilvia Simai-Mesquita considers Samba jeans in Brazil and how they are used in the export market of re-presentating of Brazilian-ness abroad.

18.) "Carrot-cut jeans" in Berlin. For his doctoral research, Moritz Ege studies relatively small but symbolically potent Berlin-based denim brands and how people use them.

19.) Denim chic among Muslim women in Berlin and Vienna. This contribution is an extension of Irene Bregenzer's recent research on Muslim women’s fashion boutiques in Germany and Austria and seeks to outline the dynamics between wearing and perceiving denim in relation to Islam.

20.) Denim: Production and Consumption on the Globalised shop-floor. Based on research in Port Said, Egypt, Leila Zaki Chakravarti came to see how export-orientated denim production carries strong local connotations of reaching out and being part of a wider commercial order of globalised garment production and consumption.

21.) Made in Japan. Philomena Keet  looks at the premium denim manufactured in the West of Japan which is sold throughout Japan and the rest of the world.

22.) Jeans in South Korea. Jiyeon Hong considers the recommodification of Japanese fashion trends in South Korea.

fake brand jeans istanbul image 2

                                   Fake brand jeans, Istanbul bazaar (© Danny Miller)