You may remember the story about Beyonce’s Ivy Park range being made in sweatshops from earlier this year. Beyonce’s range in partnership is meant to empower women through sport. Beyonce has said she wanted the range to support and inspire women that beauty is more than your physical appearance. However, it turns out the garment workers (the majority of them women) making the range were only earning £4.30 per day and having to work over 60 hours a week in horrific conditions just to make ends meet. That doesn’t sound very empowering to me.
What about all those t-shirts with feminist slogans on them, they will have been made under similar conditions to the Ivy Park range. Does the positive and often empowering message of a garment outweigh the conditions it was made in? In my opinion, for something to have a message of empowerment, it has to demonstrate this message in its journey from manufacture to my wardrobe, anything else would be hypocritical. Wearing a t-shirt proclaiming you’re a feminist, which was made by exploiting other women (or even children) does not make you a feminist.
The majority of fast fashion is targeted at women, yet at the same time relies on exploiting women. There is something very hypocritical about buying into fast fashion, especially brands claiming to empower women while the clothes are made by exploited women. We cannot truly call ourselves feminists fighting for social and economic equality if we consistently buy fast fashion. By purchasing fast fashion we (consciously or not) are supporting an industry which exploits women and children. Through our fast fashion purchases, we are endorsing the poor working conditions of women across the globe and we are no longer able to call ourselves feminists.
Can you call yourself a feminist if you shop at stores which exploit other women?
With 80% of garment workers, women aged 19-35 the production of fast fashion is very much a feminist issue. The women making our clothes are some of the lowest earners on the planet, many of whom suffer horrific working conditions. They have no workers rights, no trade unions looking out for them, no maternity leave (many are sacked as soon as the boss find out they’re pregnant) and no job security. Many are working for 14-16 hours a day just to make ends meet, often without a proper break (many don’t even get bathroom breaks). The factories they work in have little to no health and safety in place and the workers risk fire and building collapse on a daily basis. Some factories even have bars on the windows and lock workers in during the day so the chance of escaping a fire a slim. The majority of victims of The Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed 1133 people and injured around 2500 were women. This was the fourth largest industrial disaster in history and around 80% of those killed were women. These women were working in the garment factories housed in Rana Plaza making clothes for Western brands. Many of us will have owned garments made in Rana Plaza, a place which was clearly unsafe.
Feminism is about working towards creating equality not just at home but across the world. This means we cannot condone any company or industry which exploits people to make a profit. But that doesn’t mean you can’t love fashion and still be a feminist, it means we need to be aware of the impact of our choices on women across the world. Fast fashion is not feminist, the fast fashion industry is built on exploiting women for profit. We cannot truly create worldwide equality if it does not stand up for those women the world ignores. We have a duty to speak up for the women working in the garment industry. We need to put pressure on the big brands and insist on change.
Our clothes say a lot about us, they are a way of showing the world who you are as a person. What are we communicating about ourselves if we dress in cheap, low-quality clothes made in horrific conditions? We care about where our food comes from, so why not care a little more about who makes your clothes. As a feminist, you should be embracing the slow fashion movement and taking your time to build an ethical wardrobe. Ethical fashion doesn’t mean you can’t look great, as the hundreds (maybe thousands) of ethical fashion bloggers out there demonstrate every day. So next time your shopping take a moment to think about the women who make your clothes and the conditions they work in.