Why Fast Fashion Is a Feminist Issue

Exploiting Women for Profit

We are all feminists, but we are still buying fast fashion on a weekly-basis. There are an estimated 40 million garment workers globally, most of them women earning less than 3 dollars a day, according to the nonprofit group Remake. Just in Vietnam, nearly half of female garment workers experience violence and sexual harassment. And are you still wonder why fast fashion is a feminist issue? 

You cannot exploit women in one country to empower them in another. Victoria’s Secret garment makers in Thailand are owed $8.5 MILLION in compensation. In Missguided, women’s median hourly pay is 46% LOWER than men’s. Pretty Little Things promised that 100% of profits from any dress within the International Women’s Day category will also be donated to the partners charities, but what about the gender based violence in their supply chains? 

All these brands, who are constantly creating ‘’empowerment’’ campaigns’, don’t even pay the women who make their clothes a living wage. PLT and parent company Boohoo faced allegations of illegal labour in Leicester in August 2020, with garment makers reportedly earning £3.50 per hour. Shein prides itself on adding more than 1000 new styles every day and selling tops for £1, so I can guarantee that someone, somewhere, is paying. How can a garment be cheaper than a sandwich? 

Exploiting Women for Profit

The exploitation of women workers has allowed fast fashion brands companies to make huge profits while denying the workers who produce their clothes the most basic rights. The truth is, fast fashion factories remain one of the most significant sectors exploiting women and girls. When women don’t earn a living wage and they cannot invest in their education, career and family, this makes fast fashion a feminist concern.

Feminism is about all genders having equal rights and opportunities. It’s about striving to empower all women to realise their full rights. But instead of guaranteeing these fundamental rights for their female workers, the fast fashion industry takes advantage of women’s already unequal position in society to form an even cheaper, more docile and flexible workforce. Selling dresses or clothes with ‘feminist’ slogans for £4 is only possible through the underpayment of the workers creating those garments.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that these companies are creating those garments on days like International Women’s Day while they are exploiting their own women workers who are making these items. International Women’s Day is like a kind of exploitation itself. Unfortunately, for many women, living in poverty-stricken countries, a job in the textile industry is the best of a bad situation.

Sexual Harassment Is the Fashion Industry’s Dirty Secret

International factories need to do more to protect the workers in these factories from sexual abuse. #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have forced many companies to revisit their gender pay gap and anti-harassment policies. But still in 2022, in the apparel industry, for example, 1 in 3 women garment workers will experience sexual harassment t in the workplace as there is currently no international law to prevent sexual violence and harassment in the world of work.

Many global apparel brands rely heavily on social audits to ensure garment workers in their supplier factories are treated well but these measures are not enough. These audits are supposed to detect workplace abuses, including sexual harassment at work but few workers are willing to speak out about such a deeply stigmatized issue in front of others. These social audits are factory inspections, often carried out by third party auditors that are not geared towards creating a safe environment for victims to report their experiences. 

Brands must take responsibility for monitoring and remedying labour conditions in the factories they source from, rather than allowing them to conveniently distance themselves from labour abuses. Clothing brands need to step up and keep women safe in their factories. As Aruna Kashyap, a campaigner and legal advocate for Human Rights Watch, rightly points out:

“Many would endure repeated harassment and sexual assault to secure a daily wage of just over £6 a day. A woman whose babies are going hungry will do anything to put food on the table.’’

Shaming Individuals Is NOT The Solution

Shaming women who have bought, and still buy, fast fashion, is not the solution. Unfortunately, second-hand is not the solution for everyone. I’m aware that if you are plus size, it’s not as simple as finding straight sizing on charity shops or online, especially in the style you want. In fact, it’s insanely difficult.

Maybe you have a tight budget and you don’t want to risk spending money on something you cannot return later and might take months to sell. You may not even have access to second-hand shops because of where you live. Every time I visit my family in Spain, I realise that not everyone has the facilities that I have living in London which means that some of my friends have never seen a charity shop – for real.

The purpose of this article is not to shame the way individuals do or do not shop fast fashion. It is the brands and corporations that we need to demand responsibility from. However, we can do something on our side by being more responsible about our clothing consumption.

I challenge you to keep your wallet in your pocket and have fun with the clothes you already own. We may not be able to control the ongoings of a fashion company directly, but we can educate ourselves, raise awareness on who made our clothes and how their productions impact people – and the planet.