Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Oral Presentation Session
Several North American Sikh millennials are creating “value-based” enterprises online that seek to encourage creative expression, self-determined representation, gender equality, and ethical purchasing, while steeped in the free market economy. Exploring the innovative ways young Sikhs of the diaspora express their values and moral positions in the socio-economic sphere, one finds many fashionistas, artists, and activists who are committed to making Sikh dress accessible and acceptable in the conventional fashion industry. The five outward signs of the Khalsa Sikh —the “5 k’s”— are frequently used as central motifs for these businesses, whether selling turbans or clothing items with images of turbaned Sikhs. At the same time, many young Sikh designers are designing these items referencing contemporary style and social trends, from zero-waste bamboo kangas to hipster stylized turbans. For the first time young Sikh women are challenging mainstream representations of a masculine Sikh identity by creating designs dedicated to celebrating Kaurhood. The creation of these enterprises and the selling of these products in the free market is legitimized by claims based on Sikh values, including seva (volunteer/community service). However, with a growing global demand for Sikh accessories, other non-Sikh companies such as Dollar Shave Club are marketing to trendy Sikh consumers, selling similar products, generating responses and discourse around authority. Drawing on several years of participant observation engaging this new Sikh industry, including interviews and digital ethnographic research, I explore the complex responses and tensions of this phenomenon.