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Can Globalization Be Glamorous? Check Out Brazil

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As is often the case, I've got Brazil on the brain. It's been too long (two years!) since I've been back to that land that I love.

When I studied abroad in Rio in 2002 (above--remember that dress?), fashion from Ipanema's beaches to the depths of the Amazon inspired me to explore the origins and effects of our clothing. This week, two very different perspectives demonstrated why Brazil served as such a useful (and joyous) microcosm for a girl on her way to studying the manifestations of globalization through fashion.

A snapshot of popular Brazil: pink Havaianas and a patchwork doormat in the Amazon, 2008

Friday in Viceland, Jack Orlick examined the fashion choices of the Huaorani people, in the (Ecuadorian) Amazon. He seemed upset by the Huaorani's adoption of modern clothing like jeans and rubber boots, and equally disturbed by the the exploitation of their native garb for North American and European TV crews.

His photos of the Amazon, like many of mine (above and below from Pará, Brazil in 2008), show people wearing what's easy, available and convenient, which usually comes down to some combination of cotton or nylon shorts and a tee shirt and rubber shoes, whether boots or Havaiana flip-flops.

Most of the indigenous people's accessories were more practical (see: sun-blocking hats and snorkel masks) than decorative. But those traditional accessories are still around, and there's a bit of cultural exchange there. I brought home strands of seed-beads and little feathered crowns that I still wear. Orlick, who used the Huaorani's wardbrobe choices to demonstrate their precarious position between preservation and petroleum, might see my souvenirs as cultural exploitation. I see them more as globalization of fashion, and, well, beautiful accessories.

Writing this today, in a feather crown purchased in the Amazon in 2002

Meanwhile, the Business of Fashion's Suleman Anaya went "Inside Brazil's Booming Fashion Industry" to illustrate how the country's protectionist trade policy, urban migration and growing GDP are contributing to a Brazilian fashion industry that is at once attracting foreign investment and exporting Brazilian brands. (See: Osklen and Rosa Chá in SoHo.) Spending time with garment workers here in New York and reading about the effectiveness of Brazil's import duties on their apparel manufacturing sector made me wonder whether the U.S. would ever adopt a similarly aggressive strategy in support of American fashion. What's pretty awesome is that the import duties don't just protect Brazilian jobs, they also protect their aesthetic, which is so specific, and so f-ing amazing!

Rio de Janeiro, 2008

There's so much I love about Brazilian fashion (burning my buns on the beach, wearing the world's tiniest bottoms and chandelier arrings, for a start), but these stories reminded me what first inspired me there as a student of global studies: It wasn't just my amazing handmade leather flip-flops, though they were part of it. It was the potential that lies in the nexus of these two articles, where indigenous traditions meet the spending power of high-fashion consumers.

image from the Wayúu Tayá Foundation

Look what's happened with the Mochila bag, a handwoven purse from Colombian and Venezuelan tribes. Surely, the Wayúu Tayá Foundation's sales have skyrocketed since the fashion world adopted their woven bags as a must-have accessory (I know I want one!) That's a case of a non-profit organization that works with tribal communities earning money to support their projects in areas like health and education.

Imagine if they helped the Wayúu women organize themselves to connect directly with North American and European buyers, and even designers to help them apply their techniques to styles that, well, "exploit" the whims of the industry.

Huh. Sounds like another hot model that could come from Brazil.

This post was originally composed for target="_hplink">Closettour.