Industrial Safety and the Construction of “Soviet Quality”: Work Clothes during the Khrushchev Period

Main Article Content

Anna Petrova

Keywords

Quality, Materiality, Safety, Technology, Clothes, Mass Consumption, Cold War, Planned Economy, Commodity Chains, Textile Industry

Abstract

This article is devoted to the problem of quality in Soviet textile production and consumption. A product—a commodity—is created for a specific purpose, to satisfy the needs of its user. Today the quality of Soviet commodities is debated in the media, scholarship, and everyday life. But what is quality? And is it only a consumer who can articulate what quality is? The process of creating a product includes several stages—from an idea through production to sale or other form of transfer to the consumer—and at each of these stages a different understanding of quality may exist. I will examine this process on the case of the production of work clothes in the USSR in the 1950s and 1960s. Even in a situation where the consumer is not the buyer, as was the case with Soviet work clothes, the consumer can insist on better quality, give this concept a certain meaning, and endow the quality of products with some important characteristics. The consumer, without buying, consumed work clothes in large quantities. In the USSR of the 1950s–1960s, where industrialization had only recently been completed and where official policy now focused on catching up with and overtaking the West, demand for work clothes was very high. An important characteristic of work clothes is their ability to ensure the safety of the workers. During the period under review, the development of mass consumption and of science and technology was happening worldwide. These processes, as well as the competition with the West, did not allow the Soviet state to ignore the problem of safety and concern for workers. Therefore, the issue of quality became urgent, but it was not always possible to solve it successfully.


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