The “Useless” Sustainability: Chinese and American Discourses of Eco-Fashion and the Utilitarian Fantasy


  • Xinghua Li Babson College


Mots-clés :

eco-fashion, utilitarianism, ma ke, china, memory


What can China bring to the international dialog of eco-fashion? How can Chinese ways of imagining sustainability teach us new ways to think about fashion, ethics, and environment? This paper focuses on the design practice and philosophy of China’s first-generation eco-fashion designer, Ma Ke, and places her work in juxtaposition with the mainstream discourses of eco-fashion in the US. Adopting a Lacanian psychoanalytic approach, my analysis identifies an ideology of utilitarianism in the US discourse of eco-fashion that aims to maximize resource usage and minimize pollution and waste. Ma Ke’s
work, by contrast, criticizes utilitarianism and proposes to conceive
our ethical relationship with the material world not through utility, but
through memory and history. She portrays textiles as a humble medium that records the past, while the traces left from the past constitute the most seductive part of our clothes. Ma Ke’s work, I argue, offers a critique of the dominant ideologies in Western eco-fashion and helps us rethink the relationship between fashion, environment, and the ethics of consumption. 

Biographie de l'auteur

Xinghua Li, Babson College

Xinghua Li is associate professor of Media Studies in the History and Society Division at Babson College, Massachusetts, USA.






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