The Research Collective for Decolonising Fashion (RCDF) was established to end the stubbornly persistent euro – and ethnocentric underpinnings of dominant fashion discourse and to construct alternative narratives.
The RCDF acknowledges that fashion systems are diverse, whether independent of (historically), or influenced by (more recently), Western-dominated fashion. It encourages critical investigation and dialogue into that commonly denied, forgotten or otherwise hidden diversity, and explores interconnections among fashion systems outside the dominant ‘world fashion city’ network, by providing a multidisciplinary and multicultural forum where new critical paradigms can be developed from cross-cultural perspectives. The RCDF recognizes that ‘fashion globalization’, far from representing a remedial development, perpetuates Eurocentric biases in fashion description and fact on a wider geographical stage. Consistent with its goals, the RCDF strives to be inclusive and welcomes participation from academics, curators, designers and industry professionals who are creatively and critically involved in fashion systems everywhere in the world. European fashion history remains hegemonic in discourse and in business. It comes packaged with persistent narratives and set areas of debate such as the consumer revolution in the 18th century, the birth of couture in the last third of the 19th century and the importance of subcultural style in the mid – to late 20th century. These conventions continue to inform how the history of fashion is written and taught. Fashion histories beyond Europe, consequently, are often described in comparison to these hegemonic narratives and are defined accordingly. While Euro – and ethnocentric frameworks of thinking inherited from the Enlightenment have been fruitfully confronted by other disciplines such as anthropology and art history, they have remained stubbornly rooted in fashion studies – a problem that in itself begs for scrutiny.
The RCDF was called into existence in 2012, under the passionate leadership of Angela Jansen, to address these issues and contribute to the construction of a new fashion paradigm. The collective addresses the urgent need for alternative terminologies and also alternative ways of theorizing fashion so that the European experience is no longer privileged as the standard model. It also presents a forum for case studies that fall outside the conservative frameworks. RCDF participants deploy holism, and cross-cultural and relativistic frameworks to disrupt the simple, oppositional, essentialist thinking that characterizes conventional fashion studies. Participation and enthusiasm for the conference have been increasing with each subsequent edition, thus demonstrating the importance of Jansen’s initiative. The RCDF reaches out to researchers who often remain invisible in the academic landscape due to various barriers, including financial, linguistic and Eurocentric. Each conference has been attended by a gratifying range of nationalities that have contributed in diverse ways. This diversity is essential to the success of the RCDF mission.
In 2013, Angela Jansen established a Steering Committee to strengthen the RCDF and broaden its impact. She selected prominent thinkers in the field and aimed for geographic diversity in representation. The Steering Committee is still under construction as it continues to expand and develop clear divisions of tasks and responsibilities. In 2016, a PhD workshop was added to the programme in order to encourage, support and stimulate a next generation of researchers to end euro – and ethnocentricity in fashion research and to construct alternative theoretical frameworks. Students are given the opportunity to present their research and ask questions to a committee of experts.
PUBLICATIONS TO DATE
Angela Jansen and Jennifer Craik (eds). 2016. Modern Fashion Traditions: Negotiating Tradition and Modernity Through Fashion. London: Bloomsbury.
Angela Jansen and Jennifer Craik (eds). 2015. International Journal of Fashion Studies, Volume 2, Nr 1.
Maria Angela Jansen, Chairperson Independent Scholar, Brussels, Belgium
Sarah Cheang, Treasurer Royal College of Art London, UK
Sandra Niessen, Secretary Freelance Anthropologist, Netherlands
Leslie Rabine, University of California, Davis, USA
Jennifer Craik, QUT University, Brisbane, Australia
Toby Slade, University of Tokyo, Japan
Christine Tsui, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Erica de Greef, University of Cape Town, South-Africa