Fast Fashion & Feminism - it's linked.
Women are being exploited globally at the hands of fast fashion and by (not that much of an) extension – us. As a woman, and particularly a woman of colour, I was finding it harder to truly identify myself as a feminist because of the disconnect between my continuous consumption of fast fashion and female empowerment.
It’s been over 5 years since the the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. Whilst this horrific incident has been deemed “the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry worldwide“, according to the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, working conditions have “barely improved” to this day.
Of the estimated 3 million of garment factory workers in Bangladesh, 85% of those are young women, working 13 hour days to get £32 a month at most. If this isn’t enough, on top of the terrible working conditions, almost all these women are verbally abused and at least half are physically abused. Afshan Khan, Co-Founder of Purple Impression says: “80% of workers in the fashion industry or artisan sector are women who are more likely to be discriminated against on wages, face verbal abuse and have less of job security than men”.
“By making fashion ethical and fair we have a direct impact on empowering women,” says Afshan Khan, Co-Founder of ethical fashion brand Purple Impression
“Oh well is it not better to have a bad job than no job at all? If anything I’m keeping them employed!” – Why yes Western consumer Wendy! It IS better to have a job than being unemployed, and 1 + 1 IS in fact 2!
Whilst it’s nice that you feel like your 3 pack of £1.50 underwear is feeding a family of potentially 6, what you’re actually doing is justifying exploitation. It is easier to justify our actions (or lack thereof) than it is to accept responsibility, and yes responsibility does lie with us. 80% of Bangladesh’s main exports are garments and 1/3 of those exports are manufactures for European clothing companies.
“If consumers stop buying, that is like a boycott and a boycott doesn’t help us,” says Kalpona Akter, a former child worker in Bangladesh’s garment industry turned activist.
Organisations such as Labour Behind the Label exist “to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry”, whilst they do not encourage a total boycott unless demanded by the workers themselves, they work to raise public awareness of “poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, repression of trade union rights and short-term contracts”, which are all normal and ongoing practises in the clothing industry.
If we as consumers demand transparency when it comes to fashion manufacturing, pray to tell, these companies might change up their ethos and provide these workers with basic human rights (medical care, maternity rights and being able to work in a building that isn’t falling apart). Vocalising that we are aware of the awful practices in these factories and refusing to be complicit will force companies to not only take responsibility, but it would force them to adopt and implement a strict code of conduct, to improve working conditions and to always make worker rights a priority. Whilst we might not see results straight away Bryon Moore at The Guardian explains what long-term benefits come from campaigning.
Whilst western feminism is often consumed by free the nipple hashtag activism and the like, it is easy (for some) to forget that feminism is a global right. Feminism doesn’t just stop at a woman being able to opt to go bra-free, it also includes the rights of our sisters across the globe, especially when their needs are suffering for our wants.
You can find out more on the Labour Behind the Label, the War on Want or read this really cool zine below by Fashion Revolution: https://issuu.com/fashionrevolution/docs/fr_fanzine_001_moneyfashionpower