Protest is trending; it’s all over the runways, fashion mags and (why, oh why, Pepsi?!?) soft drink commercials.
Dior released a shirt that read “we should all be feminists”. Prabal Gurung’s NYFW runway show was a procession of slogan tees such as “revolution has no borders” and “this is what a feminist looks like”. H&M’s viral video ad, released in late 2016, was heralded byThe Huffington Post as a “badass”, “feminist” redefinition of “ladylike.” And earlier this year, the Missoni runway at Milan fashion week was a pussy hat parade.
Mainstream fashion brands embracing feminism isn’t an inherently bad thing. But these feminism-lite and inclusivity messages must not distract attention from the need for real changes in the fashion industry itself.
The ways in which the fashion industry is destructive to women is pretty well-publicised. 75 million people are employed by the fashion industry, and it is the largest global employer of women — mostly young women. Wages continue to be squeezed, and unions continue to be targeted whenever vulnerable garment communities collectivise. Child labour is reportedly on the up, and the industry is becoming masterful at slithering across borders when the regulation tape gets too tight for its liking.
To be fair: high-end luxury companies gracing the catwalk tend not to be the culprits in sourcing toxic materials and mass producing products under slave labour conditions. But these luxury labels pay executives handsomely to take the public pulse, and will no doubt profit from aligning with the genuine protest movement, while participating in creating minimal change, if any. (For example, Prabal Gurang’s t-shirts cost $195, with an unnamed portion of proceeds donated to American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and Shikshya Foundation Nepal.)
Life is not getting better for the fashion industry’s female workers just because a model in Milan wears a pussy hat. Instead, consumers need to put their money where their mouth is, and shift towards social enterprise, towards transparent supply chains, and support those companies who do seek to disrupt the industry at large.
Fortunately, consumers are increasingly checking up on the human rights credentials of the brands they buy. That means there can no longer be a disconnect between feminist branding and the people who create our clothes. (This is best demonstrated by the monumental whoopsie made last year by Beyoncé, when it was revealed that her Ivy Park collection with Topshop — whose tagline was “empower women through sport” — was stitched by women earning less that £5 a day.)
Gone are the days when brands could bury their supply chains deep in the annals of a report where no one can find it. In an age when we can watch Gigi Hadid pluck her eyebrows on Snapchat, we can at least expect to know where products are made within a few easy clicks.
Image via @prabalgurung
At The Fabric Social, we wave our transparency flag with pride. Our supply chain for all products is available on our website, and we happily share the stories of the women who make the clothes we sell. These women are not shamefully hidden, but celebrated, front and centre. We don’t produce poverty porn, we celebrate women; we celebrate their communities, their traditions, and their talent.
It’s not just about treating people fairly, it’s about changing the dialogue: telling people over and over that their purchasing power is political power. When you put your money in the right place, fashion can be feminist. It’s up to you!
After all: If the point of fashion is to convey something to the world about who you are and what you believe in, is it not then pretty important to consider how your clothes came into existence?
Digital illustration: Nina Abrahams