Hoda Katebi speaks on decolonizing fashion

Jackson Hartigan

Hoda Katebi delivered the second of two keynote talks for Claiming Williams Day on Thursday evening in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, finishing off a day of events focusing around this year’s theme of “Reconceiving, Regrounding and Reclaiming.” Her speech, entitled “Decolonizing Fashion from Tehran to Boston,” discussed the global politics of the fast fashion industry and its effects on American domestic society. 

Katebi, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, was born and raised in Oklahoma. She studied at the University of Chicago, where she gained an interest in politics and fashion. Following graduation in 2016, she began using fashion to draw people’s attention to political issues, writing pieces for fashion magazines and starting her own fashion blog. Today, Katebi is the host of #BecauseWeveRead, an international book club and discussion series, and is the founder of Blue Tin Production, an ethical clothing manufacturing co-operative employing only immigrant and refugee women. She is also an organizer with Believers Bail Out, an organization that bails out Muslims from immigration and pretrial incarceration.

The ’62 Center was nearly full as Katebi took her place on stage. She prefaced her speech by admitting that she was in need of coffee, and  would have to move around  on stage to maintain wakefulness. Katebi began with an overview of her life story and work before transitioning to a presentation on why she believes fashion to be inextricably political. Next, she turned to a world map entitled “Tracking a $5 Gap Shirt.” She discussed the production and marketing of  fast fashion products and traced what she described as a violent system, with violence most typically inflicted on impoverished garment workers. Katebi then further described the fast fashion industry’s role in American domestic political and economic turmoil, as well as its role in environmental and human rights atrocities committed overseas.

“There’s a reason why we don’t hear the voices of garment workers,” Katebi said. “They’re systemically silenced.” She went on to emphasize the fast fashion industry’s role in suppressing dissent among garment workers.

Earlier in the day, Katebi hosted an afternoon workshop entitled “Structural Anti-Muslim Racism with the Fashion Industry and Cultural Production,” where she presented to a smaller group of students in Dodd living room. She described the event as “sort of like a part two” to her keynote speech, focusing more broadly on systems of anti-Muslim racism. There, Katebi examined the harmful domestic effects of the War on Terror, and in doing so discussed the roots of anti-Muslim racism in American culture and political systems.