Clothing – both in the United States and other cultures – is often dictated or influenced by religious belief. Understanding religious beliefs can help a distributor or designer work within those social mores on a local or global scale while also creating a product that is unique and worth buying. Some religions might object to clothing made with certain types of fibers, whereas others might criticize the way it is worn. A background in religion helps a person or company in this field navigate those issues and ensure long-term profitability and distribution goals as they seek to bring a brand into the market.
• Textile And Apparel Management
Religion and textiles: Religion has long had an impact on beliefs about textiles and how they are used. For example, the Old Testament banned wearing garments woven of two kinds of material. In Jewish law, it is forbidden to wear a garment containing wool and linen. The Navajos believe that the art of weaving was passed on to them by Spider Woman, who spun thread and wove on a loom made for her by her husband, Spider Man, from earth and lightening bolts. Many American Indian tribes are known for weaving symbols about their tribal identities or beliefs into textiles such as rugs and blankets.
While black clothing is a symbol of mourning and white is associated with purity in many Western cultures, in Hindu, Buddhist and many African beliefs, white clothing is a sign of mourning. In Islamic burial rituals, the body is wrapped in a shroud of clean white cloth. Clothing is also used to act out one’s faith and religious identity. Sikh and Hindu women will often wear a sari, a decorated piece of cloth wrapped around the body. Some Muslim women wear “hijab,” a cover worn on the head, face or body, or more broadly defined as clothing that communicates modesty, privacy and morality.
A growing trend is modest but fashionable clothing – particularly for young women – that allows consumers such as Muslims, Mormons and others to dress in contemporary fashions while also fulfilling religious beliefs about modesty. Research could examine religion in terms of fashion and values, the styles of clothing it dictates, the process in which textiles are made, and how textiles represent changing beliefs and markets as well as traditions.
Economics and ethics: Religion and ethics has been tied to textiles throughout U.S. history. Slavery in the South was tied to the labor that helped people produce large amounts of cotton. Later, it was the use of children and deplorable working conditions in U.S. textile mils during the industrial revolution. Today, there are issues related to economic development in other nations related to cheap textile production. Nations such as the United States pay low wages to textile workers in other countries and buy textiles at inexpensive costs to sell them at discount prices in the United States, which can depress local economies. The U.S. also has the ability to depress other markets with cheap textiles, an ethical issue for those attempting to sell in other markets as well as a business issue for those attempting to open new markets.
Current Issues: An interesting movement in recent years is the use of free-market trade to benefit developing countries. One such company is Edun, which uses profits from clothing sales to benefit social causes and uses organic fabrics. Another line, launched by Bono of the rock band U2 and called “Red,” uses profits from sales to help fund AIDS treatment in African nations. Such “business with a social conscience” enterprises are becoming attractive to both investors and those working in the industry, showing that fashion sense does not have to be compromised by social conscience.
Researchers have pointed to the trend of consumers’ desire to serve social good, which gives those working in textiles an opportunity to capture a new market and make themselves distinct from other clothing sellers by catering to this movement. Research in this field could look at the factors in this social trend, chart its sustainability and help create new economies of scale that would make this area profitable while also accomplishing the supporters’ aims.