By: EMMA CHASTAIN
It’s National Women’s History Month in March. Present feminist issues are better highlighted by this month’s celebrated triumphs. Our foremothers paved paths that we cannot imagine life without, and feminism has evolved for the better; into the realm of intersectionality.
Ethically produced and eco-friendly clothing brands, small Etsy shops, online thrifting, and learning how to sew your own clothes are just the direction we need to go in order to support and end the exploitation of women around the world. At least, when done without shaming those who literally can’t.
Consider workwear— Office semi-casual. A woman just starting out in a job, not coming from money or having much of her own. This (hypothetical) job has an office semi-casual dress code. For example, this Simple Cardigan from a San Francisco-based clothing site with “Responsible Manufacturing” is $227 dollars. H&M, although publicly making steps towards “sustainability” is a fast-fashion company that uses factory labor. They have a similar sweater for $19.99. Shopping ethically is not an obvious or immediate option for everyone at all times.
These are just a few examples, and yes, there are more affordable ethical fashion brands that you can find with some digging. However, even these may not be available for all women due to their circumstances. The shaming of less privileged women by high-and-mighty complexed, economically privileged women is not helping anyone. Women helping, not shaming women needs to be the norm.
If we can buy ethically produced fashion, we need to do so; but do so while realizing that it isn’t as obtainable for all. If we can’t, we need to sparingly and consciously buy affordable clothing, while advocating for exploited women and search for affordable and realistic ethical fashion. This could be thrifting some of your work-wear basics or finding an inexpensive Etsy shop.
There is no support for the little people in the agendas of Fast Fashion higher-ups. Their trends, so similar to those of luxury runway brands, are not to give a fashionable opportunity to all. It is all to get the common majority of consumers to buy their products. Women make up around 80% of the consumer market. Targeting them through the projection of the ideal lifestyle and body type of an influencer, for example, would be a way to get women to see their brand as a way to achieve that. A rich influencer is buying this Fast Fashion; living their designer-brand-lifestyle in this clothing, so why shouldn’t I?
The issue here is the manipulation of women into the idealization of one style or person’s style to follow. “Follow these trends in order to have the perfect life”. Fast Fashion sustains society’s assignment of value to a person based on the clothing that they wear and the way they look. It perpetuates the singularity of what we see as a beautiful or displayable body type based on mere unachievable —not to mention highly edited— models, failing to represent bigger, shorter, trans, curvier, not curvy at all women. One size does not fit all, and the overproduction of “standard” sizing does nothing to make women feel worthy of wearing societally acceptable clothing.
All things considered, all women must be considered. This issue boils down to the exploitation and judgment of women; not only by wealthy systems but by other women too.
Women make up a large majority of factory workers in fast fashion production. It happens right here in the U.S. too. In fact, the Department of Labor Services investigated garment factories in LA and found that 85% of them were in violation of the labor rights of their workers. In terms of international production, 80% of fast fashion production laborers are women.
The prices of Fast Fashion goods are so low for a reason. Again, there is no underlying graciousness in these affordable clothing brands. A study done by the University of California Berkeley found that many women work to produce clothes from their homes due to poor conditions in factories. This leads them to receive 50-90% less than the minimum wage of their country. How unbearable do the conditions of factories have to be for these workers to see that as the better option? The New York Times, in covering this research report, noted that of these home workers, “85 percent exclusively worked in supply chains for the export of apparel products to the United States and the European Union.” In-factory laborers don’t fare much better. Whether it’s quota demand keeping them from taking much-needed breaks from over ten-hour days or lack of ventilation in their workspace, factory workers do not earn a decent wage for what they are put through.
Fast Company reported on the wage averages of fast fashion factory workers. In Bangladesh, a garment worker makes around 33 U.S. cents per hour. India, they might make 58 cents an hour, and 85 cents in Cambodia. A living wage is a far cry from these averages, especially when many of these workers have others to provide for.
Fast-fashion has forced its accessibility into the lives of consumers. It has forced this parasitic relationship with all of the women that it affects, leeching money, self-esteem, and labor from people who have no other option but to let them. Where fast-fashion as an industry lacks empathy, we must make up for it as a society with empathy as well as graciousness.