Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/

doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0129


Copyright © 2020 Emily Winter


Every June for the last eight years, a coalition of commercial wool buyers, the Diné College Land Grant Office, and the Black Mesa Water Coalition has hosted a multi-site wool buy in the Navajo Nation of New Mexico/Arizona. Historically, the primary outlets for Navajos to sell their wool were trading posts and border towns, which paid far below market price. Over the last several years, the wool buy has effectively doubled the price per pound paid to Navajo producers by bringing them into direct contact with buyers. In June 2019, an estimated 160,000 pounds of wool were purchased from over 800 producers and shipped to Ohio for the next step in processing. Beginning with the 2019 wool buy, I have been conducting a commodity chain analysis, following the wool as it travels across the United States, through grading, scouring, spinning, and weaving. Grounded in site visits, interviews, and conversations with members of the supply chain, this project fleshes out the mechanics by which the historically-, regionally-, and culturally-specific Navajo wool is transformed into anonymous commodity. The material and its circulation become an anchor for understanding the embodiment of people, labor, and landscape in material. The process by which raw material becomes commodity is uneven and opaque, but this site-specific, fieldwork-based project begins to break open that black box and lay out the seemingly-endless threads which make up this complex tangle of history, material, culture, and politics, questioning the rhetoric of transparency that has become so prevalent in our conversations around the ethics of production.