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Textiles in business history (double feature)

Textiles in business history (double feature)

Presenters: Muwei Chen (Beijing Foreign Studies University) and Alka Raman (London School of Economics)

Chair: Ashton Merck (Duke University)

A Voluntary Approach to Pollution Treatment Through Trade Association-Led Collective Action: Traditional Black Dyeing Firms in 1970s Kyoto

Muwei Chen (Beijing Foreign Studies University)

The problem of pollution is a typical example of an external diseconomy that takes an important position in the relationship between the environment and private firms. Private firms incline to prioritize economic profit over environmental protection, thus, relying on firms’ initiatives to treat pollution seems impracticable. However, Japan has encouraged voluntary environmental actions since when legislation and regulations on pollution were still in formation. This voluntary approach is considered to be opposite to the European and American styles, which primarily promote pollution treatment through top-down decision making by governments. Previous studies on this approach mainly focus on comparison between Japan and Western countries on the macro level. However, how the firms negotiated with the government as well as other stakeholders is less known. Besides, while big firms attract much academic and social attention, small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) are underexplored. Therefore, it warrants further study through a business historical lens to unravel what happened on the micro and meso level. This study aims to address these gaps by exploring how SMEs collectively dealt with pollution under the leadership of trade associations, while contributing to an understanding of the bottom-up voluntary approach. This study examines the case of an industrial district specializing in black dyeing in Kyoto and its surrounding areas that successfully solved their pollution problem in around 10 years. This is largely attributable to the collective attempts initiated by the Kyoto Kurozome Industrial Cooperative Association. These include both negotiations with various stakeholders and other activities to motivate the association members from within. The conclusions are as follows. First, the collective attempts compensated for the risk that the relatively loose regulation environment for SMEs could lead to reduced motivation to treat pollution. Second, the association constructed a regulative and normative environment to facilitate peer supervision based on horizontal inter-firm relationship. Third, the negotiation included diverse stakeholders, nevertheless, the failure to adopt the new dyeing method was attributed to the influence from the supply chain.

From imitation to industrialisation: Evolution of cloth quality in the British cotton industry, 1740-1820

Alka Raman (London School of Economics)

The introduction of Indian printed and painted cotton textiles into Britain in the late seventeenth century led to immediate imitations of these goods by British manufacturers. Did the process of imitation of these foreign benchmark products lead to the adoption of a specific trajectory of technological growth within the British cotton industry? This paper contributes to a topic central to interpretations of British industrialisation, pathways to technological change, and eventually innovations, using qualitative empirical material analysis. It highlights material knowledge transfer in the absence of codified means of knowledge exchange and identifies imitation as a key channel for innovation and technological change. Textual evidence from contemporary entrepreneurs, merchants, manufacturers as well as observers of the British cotton industry indicates that manufacturers in the early British cotton industry were concerned about cloth quality vis-à-vis Indian cottons and that there was a shift towards improvements in cloth quality, especially for the making of the cotton warp yarn. These texts suggest the hypothesis that there was a shift towards finer cotton textiles in Britain, via attempts to make the cotton warp yarn match Indian quality. With a novel dataset of surviving British and Indian textiles of the period, the paper puts this hypothesis to test and concludes that between 1746 and 1850, there was an increase in the quality of British cottons leading to a convergence with the quality of handmade Indian cottons. Extant literature mentions learning from pre-existing products but what this learning entailed and whether imitation of benchmark products stimulated technological innovations are questions that have remained unexplored. While British industrialisation has been studied from a variety of viewpoints, the impact of pre-existing goods, whose replication by machinery effectively constitutes the shift towards industrialisation, is a perspective previously ignored. This paper shows how competitive ambition amongst British manufactures to produce goods that rivalled Indian cottons steered the trajectory of mechanical innovations in the British cotton industry. Using empirical microscopic analysis of the historical material textile sources, I demonstrate that technological change in the British cotton industry was guided by the quest to match the cloth quality of handmade Indian cottons.

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