This website provides a public space for the ongoing ERC project Race to the bottom” to share details about our research agenda, results, and activities with a broad audience. By disseminating academic as well as non-academic texts about our research, we aim to further the knowledge on the global history of textile production and its remuneration in the past 250 years. Via this website, we will also share the datasets that arise from this project, making them openly accessible to other researchers in an effort to stimulate further work. Finally, we wish to connect our historical research to topical present-day issues that deal with labour relations in the global textile industry via social media and blog posts.

This website will be regularly updated, so we invite all those interested in our research to periodically check back in to read new contributions made by members of our team, including regular blog posts. And feel free to ask any questions you might have.

The project

The full title of this research project is “Race to the Bottom? Family labour, household livelihood and consumption in the relocation of textile production between ca. 1780 and 1990”. The project is supported by the European Research Council (ERC), Consolidator Grant (no. 771288, acronym TextileLab).

Over the past 250 years, the center of the worldwide cotton textile industry shifted first from Asia to Europe and the US, and has in recent times shifted back to Asia. This project investigates this intriguing relocation on the “macro” level from a “micro” perspective that highlights the allocation of textile work and consumption on the household level. We believe that household labour choices and consumption preferences strongly influenced relative degrees of resilience or vulnerability of textile industries in different world regions. While much literature has suggested that markets and institutions played a vital role, this project investigates the – relatively understudied – influence of household production and consumption preferences in the textile sector’s relocation across the world.

The project team takes a mixed approach of quantitative and qualitative methods to grasp the importance of household labour relations and (changing) consumption patterns to further investigate the conditions for the resilience or relocation of textile production. Currently, databases of textile wages for men, women and children are being constructed. Also, fine-grained analyses of archival material and historical household budgets are being performed.

Case studies

Postdoc project 1: Textile wages, prices and tariffs worldwide (Corinne Boter and Sarah Carmichael)

The aim of this subproject is to compose and analyse two datasets. The first contains information on textile wages of men, women and children from all over the world. All observations will be linked to a HISCO code, which will facilitate comparative research on, among others, the gender wage gap, skill premium, and the effects of mechanization on wage rates. At present, the database contains more than 10.000 observations from India, the U.K., the Netherlands, and the U.S.A. The second dataset brings together data on textile prices and tariffs. With this information, we will gain more insight into the historical relocation of cotton textile manufacturing.

Postdoc project 2: Textiles in SSA (Kate Frederick)

Handicraft industries have long thrived in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the west, while factory-based textile manufacturing has struggled to gain steam. This sub-project examines how household production strategies and consumption preferences have impacted on the simultaneous resilience of handicraft manufacturing and disappointment of large-scale machine-based manufacturing.

PhD project 1: Textiles in China and UK (Faheem Rokadiya)

The handicraft textile industry survived until long into the 20th century in China, but stopped relatively early in 19th century Britain. Why was this, and what role did households, technology and trade play in the evolution of textile production in both countries?
This sub project takes a variety of case studies in Great Britain and China and looks at how the division of labour in household textile production changed over time, in conjunction with global trade and tariffs.

PhD project 2: Textiles in Japan and India (Aditi Dixit)

This doctoral thesis examines the differential industrial growth trajectories of India and Japan through a comparative analysis of their textile industries. It seeks to present an account of the strategies of the business classes in India and Japan involving both internal and external factors. Taking a value chain approach, this research explores the manner in which relative differences in markets for labour, capital, and raw materials as well as State policies shaped the opportunities and constraints for textile enterprises in these two countries, informed their strategies, and ultimately shaped the course of development of the textile industry.

Synthesis: “Race to the Bottom? Relocation and resilience of the cotton textile industry” (Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk)

All of these research projects fall within the period of circa 1750 (when mechanized textile production took off in Britain) and 1990 (when the core of cotton textile production had again relocated to Asia). However, some of the sub-projects focus on a shorter period of time, depending on their respective research questions. In the end, however, it is our intention to have a coverage that is as long-term and global as possible.