Book Review: Recycling Indian Clothing
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Recycling Indian Clothing


Book Review by Cynthia R. Jasper and Emily Lupton Metrish
Norris, Lucy. Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22208-4
Publisher‘s website:
Author‘s website:

In the US, when clothes are threadbare or torn they get thrown away; when we just want to clean out our closets, clothing is carted off to Goodwill or other resale shops, with select pieces given to relatives or friends (children‘s clothing especially is frequently passed along to a sibling or younger cousin). The process is so common, done so unthinkingly and naturally that it seems impossible that anywhere else in the world would have a different way of disposing of clothing.

According to Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value (part of the Tracking Globalization series, edited by Robert J. Foster), clothing is treated differ-ently in India. Owing to the significant social meaning held by textiles, not to mention the monetary value they may acquire through reuse or exchange, clothing is rarely just discarded. Instead, it is frequently recycled for both the domestic and global markets; used textiles may be repurposed to cover furniture or turned into skirts, handbags, or other fashion items. Although there are economic and environmental benefits to be realized from this recycling, there are also signifi-cant traditions associated with clothing, social identity, and ritual purity which come into play in the recycling process.

Dr. Lucy Norris, a Senior Research Fel-low in the Department of Anthropology at University College London has au-thored a text which covers the multitude of issues surrounding textile recycling in India with an eye toward the interna-tional flow of materials. Other topics engaged include societal transformation in India over the last two decades (her experiences in New Delhi, India, dating from 1999-2000 and from the mid-2000s, are recounted in detail to provide a context for readers unfamiliar with the Indian milieu), how women acquire clothing in India and what it means for them, textile conservation strategies, recycling and trade strategies, the details of the recycling process, and the international flow of textiles. Norris‘s research is more than just passive ethnography; she describes herself interacting with her subjects and is strongly sympathetic to them, in one case trying to help an elderly widow sell (and eventually purchasing herself for an exhibit) an embellished waistcoat for 300 Rupees. The book contains endnotes for each chapter, a complete bibliography, and an extensive index.

Recycling and living "green" are already important topics in America. As hybrid cars and cloth shopping bags become ubiq-uitous, we will eventually have to address our textile-based waste, and India may be a good place to look for guidance on how to institute a wide-scale recycling program of this nature. In addition, as globalization continues to increase ties between the US and companies overseas, it is not just possi-ble but likely that students may wind up working with co-worker from India or even in the country itself. A grasp of the basics of Indian culture could be very beneficial in such a circumstance. Recycling Indian Clothing would be an excellent supplementary textbook for a course on clothing and culture.

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