You have likely noticed the influx of feminist messages on fast fashion and luxury clothing brands. Slogans like ‘GRL PWR’, ‘The Future is Female’ or ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ seem to be everywhere. They are on the streets, on the runway and on celebrity Instagram accounts, giving us the illusion of female empowerment in the fashion world.
But the uncomfortable truth is that fast fashion, which dominates our malls and online shops today, disproportionately hurts women.
The status quo
Did you know that 80% of all garment workers are female? What is shocking is how few of them earn enough to make a living. A 2019 report by Oxfam found that 0% of garment workers in Bangladesh earned enough for a living wage! This leads to a vicious cycle where women can't save enough and their kids have to start working at an early age. In addition, sexual harassment is commonplace in garment factories, with 1 in 4 Bangladeshi garment workers disclosing some form of abuse.
While women prop up the fashion supply chain as manual laborers and consumers, men dominate the boardrooms. Only 14% of major fashion brands are run by a female executive, meaning that men get most financial rewards.
Truly positive change in the fast fashion industry is therefore an issue of women's rights. As long as the supply chains and working conditions of fast fashion remain, women will stay in the same conditions they are in today.
But is there something that we as consumers can do? Fortunately yes! As fashion consumers, there is much we can do for a real impact, including:
1. Buy organic
A 2017 Deloitte study found that it would only take an increase of 1% of the retail price to pay workers in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam a living wage! By shopping brands that are officially certified as organic, you ensure that the entire collection was made under ethical conditions and with fair wages.
2. Ask: who made my clothes?
You have the right to know whether women are being treated fairly by the brands you shop from. Use the Good on You app to search for highly-rated brands in the ‘people’ category. Or use Fashion Revolution’s resources to help you ask your favorite brands about what they are doing for to help women themselves.
Workers from the factory producing Orbasics pieces
3. Vote with your wallet
Spend your hard-earned cash wisely by supporting small, independent female-owned businesses. Bonus points for shopping locally to boost the local economy and reduce your carbon footprint.
4. Get involved
Skip the feminist merchandise and wear female empowerment beyond your sleeve. Why not join a protest or march in your city, donate to a local women’s shelter or start a petition? Every little thing helps!
5. DonateDonate to nonprofit organizations, who support women in the textile industry such as FEMNET. Here too, every cent helps!
Brands that fight for female empowerment
Fortunately, there are an increasing number of ethical brands working hard to empower women and girls through authentically feminist fashion. Mayamiko for example produces clothing made ethically by women in Malawi with fabrics sourced by a local cooperative of women traders. Their associated charity the Mayamiko Trust empowers disadvantaged women in the community, providing support for education, nutrition and sanitation.
Image source @Mayamiko
There’s also Wildfang, a women-led brand creating size-inclusive clothing. They donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities that support women of color and LGBTQ+ communities. Lucy & Yak sent 90 Indian girls to school on Black Friday this year, using 10% of each sale to raise funds instead of discounts.
Image source @Lucy&Yak
SeeMe creates jewelry focused on providing financial independence for female survivors of violence in Tunisia.
Image Source @seeme
And finally, we at Orbasics say goodbye unethical clothing: with sustainable and unicolour clothing for all to share.
Solving the industry’s toxic working practices is undoubtedly a female empowerment issue. To create a truly feminist fashion industry, we must consider the lives of all women who make our clothes.
For more information about garment worker rights, head over labor Behind the Label.
Ruth MacGilp is an ethical fashion blogger based in Edinburgh, UK, who is passionate about showcasing the alternatives to fast fashion. She is also a freelance digital marketer who works across social media, websites, email, PR and copywriting to help combine storytelling, selling and sustainability for purpose-driven brands.