Fashion is a feminist issue and on International Women’s Day it seems right and proper to think about fashion and feminism.
Are you happy to buy cheap fast fashion at the expense of women?
First a bit of history: International Women’s Day started in commemoration of the protests led by female garment workers in New York City. In 1908 on the 8thof March over 15,000 women marched for shorter working hours, increased pay and voting rights. Protests with similar goals have been held already this year, in January in Bangladesh 50,000 women demanded higher wages and walked out of their factories that produce for fast-fashion multinational brands.
Fashion is an inherently feminist issue and the current way the fast fashion industry operates is hugely problematic for any feminist agenda. Fast fashion brands profit at the expense of the poorly paid and poorly treated people working in the garment industry and it is predominantly women who are employed in these extremely low paying jobs in dangerous working conditions. Buying cheap throwaway fashion serves to uphold a system that causes harm to women all over the world.
As fast fashion brands compete for our attention they seek to offer us continually new, fresh and trendy styles as well as offering us good deals, discounts (we all know about the annoyingly tempting 25% off codes) and cheap prices. These multinational brands then look for the cheapest factories that can produce clothing at a low cost and within a crazily quick turnaround time so that they can preserve their profits and keep churning out new clothes. Leaving these factories left to look to reduce costs by searching for even cheaper labour, pushing for longer hours and cutting corners in regards to health and safety as well as environmental regulations.
As it is estimated by Labour Behind the Label that approximately 80% of garment workers are women aged 18-35. As multinational fashion brands stupidly continue to prioritise profits over people it is the women employed at the very bottom in the garment production industry that suffer. The Global Labor Justice issued a report about women being sexually and physically abused in factories across Asia that supply brands such as H&M and Gap. “The research also makes clear these are not isolated incidents and that gender based violence in the H&M and Gap garment supply chains is a direct result of how these brands conduct business”. There are also numerous reports of women being physically assaulted as a result of not meeting their production targets.
This isn’t an issue that effects just the global south as the exploitation of garment workers in the UK has shown. Last year Channel 4 Dispatches program Undercover: Britains Cheap Clothes showed that garment workers in Leicester were being paid as little as £3 an hour, less than half the minimum wage.
The links between fashion and feminism are most blindingly obvious when the item of clothing is marketed as a feminist one but is produced by women paid an unfair wage in exploitative conditions. T-shirts with the "trendy" feminist slogans “This is what a feminist looks like” "Girl Power” etc etc have been produced in unfair and unsafe working conditions that just makes buying/wearing the t-shirt so so hypocritical.
If you are a feminist (hopefully not an if!!) then think about who has made the clothes when you are about to buy a new item.