It’s growing in popularity as a social justice movement. But that’s not enough. Here’s why I think ethical fashion is a feminist issue
It is an extraordinary time to be a woman. From top political figures to Hollywood stars, we are hearing a groundswell of women’s voices that are deliberate in their quest for equality and justice.
Even in the fashion industry, feminism has found itself on the center stage of runway shows. These days, being a feminist brand has become more fashionable than ever (if you don’t believe me, just ask Dior).
It’s also a wonderful time for the fashion industry. Never before have consumers demanded more sustainability from the companies that clothe them. And arguably, never before have fashion companies been so conscious.
While it is encouraging to watch fashion embrace better ethics and women’s rights, it is important to understand that if the industry was truly serious about empowering women, brands need to do some serious work fighting for women on both sides of the supply chain, not just the end consumer. In fact, I would go as far to say that ethical fashion is a feminist issue. Here’s why.
Why Ethical Fashion Is A Feminist Issue
Now, more than ever, consumers are demanding to know who made my clothes? And the answer to that question is very likely: a brown woman.
It’s a fact that it’s mainly women who are the hidden forces that power the supply chains of the fashion industry. But their lack of visibility means that their struggles are widely unrecognized. Around 75 million people around the world are garment workers. Approximately 80% of that number is made up of women ages 18-34. Perhaps ironically, this is the same demographic as the women who are mainly catered to by fast fashion outlets.
While retailers like Mango and Pull & Bear print t-shirts with feminist slogans on them, the woman who made it was most likely getting exploited on the factory floor. She is fighting not only for equal pay, but a fair living wage. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, minimum wages are less than half of what can be considered a living wage in many Asian nations. Insufficient wages continue to trap workers into a cycle of poverty, leading to excessive overtime and malnourishment. Mothers are also unable to well educate, clothe, and feed their children, perpetuating the poverty trap.
Beyond Just Poor Wages
As some film shorts such as “Made in Cambodia” demonstrate, wage issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Garment workers endure many other challenges on the job, including susceptibility to gender-based violence. The extreme pressure to meet fast fashion deadlines combined with workers’ fears of losing their job, creates a toxic environment. Women makers are easily abused, bullied and taken advantage of.
As worldwide cultural movements such as #MeToo shifts us into more honest conversations about sexual harassment and violence, it is important to recognize that women makers encounter these issues in the workplace regularly. For example, NDTV reports that garment workers in India are vulnerable to sexual harassment by male supervisors. And the Global Labor Justice recently published data that document gender-based violence in Gap and H&M’s supply chains.
Moreover, as the industry continues to endanger the environment by using harsh chemicals during production and damaging natural resources, it is the women in lower socioeconomic classes who are on the frontlines of the manufacturing process that will feel the consequences directly. When chemical dyes exude poisons, the rivers are polluted and the air is blackened by smoke, it is the garment makers who will suffer from the repercussions firsthand.
The Solution? Look Beyond The Slogan
That being said, it is crucial to recognize that while feminist slogan t-shirts are nice, its message means nothing if the way they were made betrays the very statement that it advertises. Fashion needs to remember that while feminist marketing is “in”, feminism itself isn’t a trend. Rather, it’s a lifelong commitment that takes real action.
On the consumer end, shoppers should have a global picture of the impact of their purchases, and to think about the human hands who make our clothes. More likely than not, there’s a poorly paid woman on the other side of that t-shirt, dreaming of a bright and powerful future where she will thrive.
She’s counting on us to wear our values on our sleeve and fight for her. We can do this by voting with our dollars, supporting brands that realise ethical fashion is a feminist issue, and telling her story with dignity.
Remake is a nonprofit that is igniting a conscious consumer movement to turn fashion into a force for good. Our original documentary footage brings you face to face with the women who make our clothes.
Ruby Veridiano, @rubyveridiano, is a fashion change-maker focused on connecting the dots between women’s empowerment and sustainable fashion. She is Remake’s Paris Ambassador and a contributing correspondent for NBC News, Euronews, NYLON Magazine, Mic, and more.