“Actually, I’m in Havana”, Clandestina, an Ethnographic Study of Economic Policy and Colonial Hegemonies Encoded in the Consumption of Used Garments

I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting my paper: “‘Actually, I’m in Havana’, Clandestina, an Ethnographic Study of Economic Policy and Colonial Hegemonies Encoded in the Consumption of Used Garments” at the Fashion: Now & Then 
Fashion and Sustainability Conference  at LIM College in New York this October  http://fashionnowandthen.blogspot.ca/

Keywords, Fashion Sustainability; Used Garments; Re-use; Fashion History, Globalization


This research involves an onsite ethnographic study and interview of the designers of the Clandestina fashion brand in Havana, Cuba, undertaken by the author in February of 2017. The Clandestina label creatively capitalizes on a commodity that has been de-valued through over-production and consumption: used clothes. Globally, the impact of second hand clothing has been both a blessing and a curse to local markets, on the one hand it brings economic opportunity and an affordable way to clothe an impoverished population, on the other it undermines existing textile industries and weakens the cultural power of traditional dress. According to:  Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion And Second-Hand Clothes the contemporary global wholesale used clothing trade is valued at over 3.57 Billion Dollars. The majority of this second-hand commodity comes from donations in North America and Europe, and it is a commonly held misconception that the used goods we donate to the Salvation Army, are going to go directly to clothe needy people. In fact they are sold to intermediaries who then re-distribute them for profit (Cameron 2015). Some of this excess is what Clandestina uses as raw goods to re-fabricate through the “creative reuse” of existing materials, their slogans for example are: “screenprinted on top of old, recycled shirts” that were originally donated from North America, “These provide a fascinating juxtaposition, whether it’s an upside-down Mickey Mouse paired with the Clandestina logo or an American country club insignia obscured by their trademark ‘Actually, I’m in Havana’ slogan” (Hernandez 2015: n.p.). This is not however, the first time that used clothing has had significant cultural and economic impacts

Throughout history, the use and re-use (and subsequent re-uses) of garments and fabric has taken many forms, and an analysis of these can be used to examine the larger cultural mores of the time. It has functioned as a valuable communal family asset in renaissance Florence (Frick 2006) and an alternative currency in colonial-era England (Lemire 2012). The colonial project of redistributing second-hand clothing globally as a form of “reverse cargo” can be clearly seen fully realized in the current manifestation of the trans-global distribution and consumption of second-hand garments. Called “roupa da calamidade (clothing of the calamity)” in Mozambique, and “kafa ulaya (the clothes of the dead whites)” in Nigeria, these garments dominate the local markets and account for the majority of sales in some countries (Brooks 2015: n.p.). While this deployment of second-hand goods is obviously a better solution than having the garments go to a landfill, their re-distribution can obscure the many devastating impacts of fast fashion both locally and globally, by conveniently removing them.

However, through capitalizing on the embargo-imposed, now-engrained Cuban thrift, as well as the highly educated state of the population, Clandestina has created a product that is uniquely Havanero, but ready to take on the world. These “young revolutionaries” challenge the global nowhere enacted by the massive dispersion of second hand goods with a forthright: “…actually I’m in Havana”.

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Brooks, Andrew. ”The Hidden Trade in our Second Hand Clothes given to Charity” The Guardian Online Edition Feb. 2015. (Accesed Dec 5, 2016): https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/2015/feb/13/second-hand-clothes-charity-donations-africa

Cameron, Jenny. “Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-Hand Clothes.” Australian Feminist Studies 30, no. 85 (2015): 316-320.

Frick, Carol, C. “The Florentine ‘Rigattieri’: Second Hand Clothing Dealers and the Circulation of Goods in the Renaissance”. Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion. (Online Edition) Berg (2005). Accessed Nov. 20, 2016: https://www-bloomsburyfashioncentral-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/products/berg-fashion-library/book/old-clothes-new-looks-second-hand-fashion

Hernandez Tapia, Lidia. “Clandestina: A Way of Creating “99% Cuban Design” On Cuba Magazine. Dec.1 2015. http://oncubamagazine.com/economy-business/clandestina-a-way-of-creating-99-cuban-design/ Accessed March 26, 2017.

Lemire, Beverly. “The Secondhand Clothing Trade in Europe and Beyond: Stages of Development and Enterprise in a Changing Material World, c. 1600–1850.” Textile 10, no. 2 (2012): 144-163.


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