Fast fashion, is it a feminist issue?

London - There is no doubt the fashion industry has a long way to go when it comes to equality in the social and political realms. It may have been three years since the Rana Plaza disaster, which saw a factory collapse in Bangladesh with horrific consequences, but little has changed since then.

75 percent of garment workers are women

The truth is, if you have purchased a cheap garment on the high street, say a t-shirt for a fiver, or a pair of jeans for under ten pounds, there were no ethics involved in making it. What is also prevalent, but rarely spoken about, is that the garment was most likely made by a woman or girl. 75 percent of garment workers are women, according to statistics. These consist of the lowest-paid factory jobs, long hours and appalling working conditions. This is no longer just an ethical issue it appears, but also a feminist concern.

Women working in garment factories get paid much less than the average living wage. They are unlikely to receive support such as maternity leave and have nowhere to turn if they experience sexual harassment in the workplace.

Consumerism allows for abuse of labour practices

Our desire for consumerism allows for alienation and abuse of labour practices, because in developing countries they can get away with what we would consider sub-standard and illegal practices. Whereas in the UK there are European-enforced rules for workplace conditions, minimum wage, unions, and job security, in developing countries we can still take advantage of exploiting people, especially women.

In an industry where womenswear makes up the majority of sales and profits and in which the highest number of women are employed, from retail, to the shop floor, to the factory line, why isn’t enough being done to protect them?

Justice and equal rights is not a notion for the privileged, but as consumers we seem to be more conscious of price tags than of questioning the bigger picture. Recently the Panama Papers revealed there are fashion conglomerates who have complex company set-ups to avoid paying their fair share of tax. Wouldn’t it be a good start for companies who produce their clothes in developing countries and subsequently earn huge profits to start paying tax locally? And do we as consumers have a responsibility to consider ethics when we purchase their garments?

What does it say about ourselves if we only dress in unethically made goods?

Everybody has the opportunity to be more conscious of the way they consume products, including fashion. We care about the food we eat, the conditions of farmed animals, why would we not consider the originals of the clothes we wear? After all, fashion says so much about a person - how we chose to dress and present ourselves. What are we communicating if we only outfit ourselves in disposable, unethically made goods?

It is difficult to know the origins of a product, and nigh on impossible to find out the ethical and feminist standards that were employed in making it. Brands are very slick in their marketing, advertising and packaging to distract us from questioning its origins. When that shiny new package arrives on your doorstep containing an item beautifully wrapped in tissue paper, the first thought to spring to mind is not likely to be that of an underpaid garment worker.

Buy with consideration

What we can do is be critical about how we spend our money and which brands we choose to wear. Ask questions, challenge yourself as well as those where you shop, so you can buy with consideration. We should all ask ourselves why it is ok to exploit someone in one country and then empower them in another. Cheap clothes are exactly that.

Image:Bangladeshi garment workers

 

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