Making Things Fit, Making Ends Meet. Small Entrepreneurs in Istanbul’s Garment Industry

Dissertation Project

Luisa Piart

Cotutelle University of Vienna & School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences EHESS Paris

Garment production in Istanbul has increased dramatically over the last decades. Two million people could be working in the apparel and textile industry in Istanbul today – approximately one third of the labor force of Turkey’s largest city. And Turkey is among the world’s top five garment exporters. Nonetheless regardless of industrialization plans and efforts to impose stricter security rules, most of the production is carried out in small-scale specialized workshops spread across Istanbul metropolitan municipality. The extreme disintegration of garment production has forced an increasing number of small entrepreneurs to act as a link between Turkish, or foreign retailers, and scattered producers. They became the keystone of Istanbul’s garment industry. 

This doctoral project investigates the role of these local small entrepreneurs and their shifting importance in Istanbul’s globalized garment industry. It explores from an anthropological perspective the organization of this industry, as well as the careers, commercial practices, entrepreneurial success of the small entrepreneurs in a context of deep economic restructuring. It argues that Istanbul’s garment industry shapes a distinctive assemblage of material practices, labor division and capital accumulation, whose precise analysis can provide new insights on the current dynamics of globalized capitalism. The empirical basis of the dissertation comes from fifteen months of participant observation, and qualitative in-depth interviews with different types of market actors in shops, workshops, factories, buying offices and official institutions in Istanbul.