why fast fashion is a feminist issue + what we can do about it
Last summer I bought and wore a tshirt by a fast fashion brand with a feminist slogan on it, and now I’m embarrassed about it for more reasons than the fact that it was a bit of a sh*t shirt.
I’m not writing this post to shame, guilt or judge anyone - I still own multiple pieces by fast fashion brands that have lasted me years, and I’ve only very recently started to focus only on pieces that are built to last, independently created, made in small batches, environmentally sustainable and/or ethically constructed. I’m right at the start of my conscious fashion journey and I know so many of you are too; we’re figuring this out together and making small but mighty changes along the way. I hope this is an informative and not overwhelmingly intimidating look into why fast fashion is a feminist issue.
It felt a little bit out of place putting my #ootd photos in this post as I want the focus to be wholly on the matter at hand, so I’ve just put a couple at the start. My dress was kindly gifted to me by the gorgeous Honest Department, an online marketplace for ethical and sustainable brands where you can actually shop according to your personal ethical priorities - they’ve even created categories to help you out! It’s by a brand called Diarte, whose mindful philosophy you can read about here.
fashion as female empowerment
It’s a well-known fact that fashion is a wonderful way to express and empower ourselves; whether it’s brightening up your mood with a bold knit or getting dressed up in a slinky little black dress and feelin’ yo’self. Particularly with our society’s focus on how we, as women, present ourselves, when we clothing that’s constructed to make us feel good about ourselves is always a win. So, of course, when you see a tee with a slogan about girls supporting girls, you’re bound to shout ‘hell yeah!’ and add it straight to your shopping basket.
It’s only been since I began researching the slow fashion movement, however, that I’ve discovered a different side to the world of fashion and its relationship with female empowerment. Unsurprisingly, it’s actually just a cunning marketing ploy. But unlike many of the ads we scroll past everyday that scream various claims to grab our attention for more than a split second, this one is particularly twisted.
the beyoncé scandal
A prime example of the issue to hand is Beyoncé’s collaboration with Topshop back in 2016, when they worked together to create an athleisurewear collection called IVY PARK.
There’s no denying that Beyoncé is a 21st century feminist icon, with so many incredible and urgent messages and movements at the heart of her work as an artist. So if Beyoncé brings out a clothing line, you can bet there’ll be millions of us queuing up to throw our money at her and support our gal. As it turns out, however, standing for women’s rights and partnering with Topshop is a bit of a paradox.
As a big player in the high street style world, Topshop has its fair share ( how ironic ) of questionable practices. As an integral member of the Arcadia group ( the multinational retailing company owned by Philip Green * shudders * ) , it’s unfortunately unsurprising that Topshop does not pay its workers a living wage at any part of its production process ( source ) . So, as you can imagine, multiple concerns were raised by the media and relevant organisations with regards to the manufacturing process soon after the collaboration launched . The pieces were constructed in a factory in Sri Lanka, and after claims were made that the factory was exploiting its employees ( the vast majority of whom are women ) , IVY PARK came under fire. Anti-Slavery International wrote that these statements allude to what is ‘bordering on modern slavery’ ( source ) . More on that later.
Topshop were quick to respond to these allegations, with Philip Green ‘categorically and wholly’ denying them ( source ) . Are we surprised? Do we believe him?
Fast forward to 2018, IVY PARK became wholly owned by Beyoncé following a firm push from Equality Now, an organisation focused on the rights of women and girls. In every article I could find, Topshop declined to comment on this.
behind the seams in fashion factories
'The True Cost'
Is the Beyoncé scandal shocking? Unfortunately, no.
In an industry overturning $1.2 trillion dollars worldwide annually, the people who create our clothes are earning as little as $21 per month, so that they don’t have the funds or time to gain skills to progress to a new career, and they’re forced to constantly work overtime to earn a decent amount ( source ) . 80% of garment workers are female ( source ) . Not only are these girls horrifically underpaid, but they’re treated terribly, too, with sexual harassment and emotional abuse commonplace.
In H&M’s Cambodia factories, 11 out of 12 employees report either witnessing or experiencing being fired as a result of pregnancy ( source ) .
The cold, hard truth is this: we’re not helping these women by purchasing our clothes from fast fashion brands. We only need to look at the Rana Plaza factory collapse of 2013, and the fact that nothing has changed, to know that these corporations won’t do anything if we don’t. It’s frustrating, but it’s true. If you don’t have the time to watch a full-length documentary like the brilliant The True Cost ( you can find it on Netflix ) , there is a five minute video by The NY Times that sums up what went on. It’s extremely difficult to watch but if you are able to watch it, it’s extremely important and I urge you to. You can find it here.
so how can we help our sisters?
There are multiple ways we can help the women out there who are paying a whole lot so that we can get a tshirt for £3.
Here are just a few:
Boycott fast fashion brands. By funding these corporations, we’re allowing them to continue these practices without any repercussions. It’s time they learn that what they’re doing isn’t okay.
Tell fast fashion brands to be transparent with us. Many of these big brands don’t publish every factory where their clothing construction takes place, either because they’re hiding something, or because these factories are outsourced by suppliers. This means they don’t actually know where some of their own production factories are. How are they going to guarantee that their employees are respected if they don’t even know who or where they are? Yeah … bit of an issue there. Tell your favourite brands ( email is a good way to go about this ) that you want to know details about every factory they use, explaining that you don’t feel comfortable wearing a garment when you don’t know in what conditions it’s been created. Often, they’ll just link you to a thirty page document with their ‘sustainability report’ from a few years ago. Not a good sign.
Support the organisations who support them. There are a range of wonderful charities, organisations and movements who are doing everything they can to help these women get out of their toxic workplaces and gain the skills to progress to a new career. To name a few: Labour Behind the Label, Fashion Revolution, Women In Informal Empolyment: Globalizing and Organizing, Fair Trade.
Support the companies who support them. There are some brilliant ethical fashion brands out there who prioritise the wellbeing of their employees ( something which should be intrinsic in every industry ) and it’s key that we give them our hard-earned cash. This way you know that you’re funding the support of other women, because no one deserves to work in the conditions that they’re working in right now.
One of my favourite YouTubers, Justine Leconte, did a TEDx Talk in Thessaloniki a couple of years ago, which still resonates today. The audio and picture might be a little bit lacking, but I urge you to watch it. She really takes on a positive approach to how we can make a change to this industry, which is something I’m always keen to do within my own online content. I’d love to hear your thoughts!