It is an extraordinary time to be a woman in this day and age. Since the Women’s March happened on January 21, 2017, the ripple effects of the ground-shifting worldwide event continue to reverberate, echoing across continents and industries. From the world of politics to Hollywood, we are seeing 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 has become more fashionable than ever (if you don’t believe me, just ask Dior).
While it is encouraging to watch fashion embrace 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.
Why Ethical Fashion Is A Feminist Issue
It’s a fact that it’s mainly women who are the hidden forces that power the supply chains of the fashion industry, and their lack of visibility means that their struggles are widely unrecognized. 75 million people around the world are garment workers, and 80% of that number is made up of women ages 18-34–the same demographic as the women who are 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, 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.
As our 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, create an environment where 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 types of assault in the workplace regularly. 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 socio-economic 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.
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, but 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 by voting with our dollars, supporting brands that treat makers ethically, 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. We share facts and stories to help you break up with fast fashion and provide seasonal curated collections to remake your closet with fashion that respects women and planet. @remakeourworld
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.
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