Cultivating consumer markets
While customary textile production practices remain important for many Hmong ethnic minorities in the Sino–Vietnamese borderlands, over the last decade the industrial production of textiles in China made to emulate these traditional designs has flourished. In this chapter, I focus on the import of such new, ethnic minority-oriented “cultural commodities” into the remote border uplands of Vietnam from China. Through a case study of the trade in factory-made textiles, I demonstrate how consumer markets “on the margins” are being actively crafted through the actions of Hmong small-scale traders. While individually dealing in minor volumes and economic transactions, mobile Hmong traders play a key role in facilitating the flows of new goods and new tastes throughout remote upland localities. Predominately Hmong women, textile traders move through the Sino–Vietnamese borderlands, skillfully drawing upon a diverse repertoire of resources, networks, and economic practices in order to support their livelihood ventures. Zooming in closely on textile traders’ activities reveals how they are far from passive conduits for the spread of “ethnic” commodities arriving from China, but active co-producers who are also shaping them. Moreover, I argue that the emergence of new technologies of production for these cultural commodities has worked to enliven, strenghten, and diversify the use and trade of Hmong textiles rather than eroding it, and has enabled women’s traditional dress to be viewed as “modern”.