Kedron Thomas is a cultural anthropologist with interests in the globalization of trade and legal frameworks, cultural and ethical dimensions of entrepreneurship and business, the production of material culture, and the cultural politics of style and identity, race and ethnicity, and environmental regulation. She examines these processes and practices in the context of the global fashion industry.
In Guatemala, Thomas has worked with small-scale indigenous Maya apparel manufacturers who make clothing that features unauthorized reproductions of fashion brands. She examined the rise of “knockoff” fashion in highland Guatemala amidst the politics of race and indigeneity, efforts by the state and international institutions to promote entrepreneurship and national development after nearly four decades of armed conflict, and the globalization of intellectual property regimes that criminalize practices of brand “piracy.” This research resulted in a book titled, Regulating Style: Intellectual Property Law and the Business of Fashion in Guatemala (University of California Press, 2016). The book also broadens out to explore the neocolonial contours of the global fashion system. She argues that trademark law enforcement is an important part of how the fashion industry regulates style along the lines of race, class, gender, and geography.
Her interests extend to the forms of moral and legal reckoning that hold sway in indigenous communities, and how these reflect the mounting insecurities and widespread impunity for violent crime that characterize contemporary Guatemalan society. In a co-edited volume entitled Securing the City: Neoliberalism, Space, and Insecurity in Postwar Guatemala (Duke University Press, 2011), she takes a closer look at state and local responses to rising crime rates in relation to processes of economic and legal reform.
Her current book project describes the politics of environmental sustainability and labor rights from the perspectives of designers, marketers, and brand and supply chain managers at fashion and footwear firms in London, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. Tentatively titled, Sustainability in the Making: Labor, Ethics, Ecology in the Global Fashion Industry, the book narrates how people who work in the fashion and footwear industry are attempting to build more environmentally sustainable and ethical supply chains. Rather than gauging the economic or ecological efficacy of these efforts, her research focuses on the ways that evolving business strategies reflect the emergence of new and different social identities, relationships to materials and technologies, moral sentiments and commitments, and meanings of work and labor among white-collar employees. The project engages conversations on material culture and materiality, ecology and environmentalism, the meaning and practice of sustainability, changing urban landscapes and processes of gentrification, corporate ethics, and cultures of contemporary capitalism.