Fashion and Feminism—two words that often find themselves in a complex waltz. As we navigate through this relationship, we uncover intricate patterns shaped by history, economics, and social norms.
From suffragists who used fashion as a political tool to today’s young women driving the fast fashion industry, the relationship between fashion and feminism merits your focus.
If you’ve wondered about gender inequality in the fashion industry, you’re not alone. This issue extends far beyond the runway.
The Young Faces Behind the Labels
Here’s a shocker: Eight out of ten garment workers are women. Yup, let that sink in. Even more eye-opening? They’re super young—like, 18 to 25 young.
These are not your seasoned workers; these women are often fresh out of their teens or just into their twenties. Ideally, they should be filled with dreams and aspirations.
But reality paints a darker picture—they are trapped in an exploitative system, making clothes that contribute to the billions in the fashion industry’s coffers.
To truly grasp the depths of this, our piece on fashion addiction sheds light on the consumerism that feeds this cycle.
More Than Just Clothes
This isn’t about hemlines or the color of the season. It’s about lives—how real women are impacted, empowered, or exploited by the fashion industry.
It’s about unpacking how this massive, money-making machine has been both a friend and a foe to the feminist movement.
Why This Matters
So why should you care?
Because you hold power—the power of choice. From the brands you back to the ethical stands you take, your decisions play a pivotal role in shaping this complicated relationship between fashion and feminism.
The Wage Scandal
In countries like Bangladesh, which is a hub for garment manufacturing, the minimum wage for garment workers was set at $95 per month in 2018.
Break that down, and it’s less than $3 a day. And this, in a world where the international poverty line is set at $1.90 per day by the World Bank.
Do the math, and you’ll see—these women are barely hovering above extreme poverty levels.
The Real Cost of a $10 Tee
Ever wonder how brands can afford to sell clothes so cheap? Well, it starts with paying someone less than $3 a day to make them.
Fast fashion’s whole business model relies on high volume and low cost. That low cost comes at the expense of humane wages for female garment workers.
The Financial Divide in Fast Fashion
The global fashion industry is estimated to be worth around $1.5 trillion. Fast fashion makes up a significant portion of this.
Major brands like Zara and H&M are valued in the billions.
The CEO Pay Gap
To put things in perspective, CEOs at some of these major fashion brands can earn salaries upwards of $20 million a year. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio was 320-to-1 in 2019.
That means these CEOs are making 320 times what an average worker earns. While young women in garment factories struggle with less than $3 a day, CEOs are taking home astronomical sums.
Subcontracting: The Loophole
Here’s where it gets slippery. Many of these big-name brands use subcontractors to manufacture their products.
This allows them to dodge responsibility for working conditions and wages. When scandals break out about poor factory conditions, brands often claim ignorance or distance themselves from the subcontractors.
The Human Cost
While fast fashion CEOs make headlines for their net worth, it’s the young women in their supply chain who pay the human cost.
Forced labor, inhumane working conditions, and negligible paychecks are the norm for many of these women. It’s a grim reality, often overshadowed by flashy advertising and discount sales.
How does fashion affect women’s rights?
- Unsafe working conditions are widespread.
- Cases of forced labor and child labor are reported.
- 85% of garment workers in Asia and the Middle East have no legal work contract.
Let’s talk about factory safety.
Ever heard of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013?
A staggering 1,134 people died, and most were young women. The factory had known safety issues, but those warnings were ignored.
This isn’t a one-off incident; unsafe conditions are common across the industry.
Forced Labor and Overtime
You’d think long hours would at least mean more money, but nah.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that forced labor in the textile and clothing industry affects millions globally.
Often 14 hours long, with forced overtime and little to no time off.
No Legal Protection
Hold up, it gets worse.
A report by Clean Clothes Campaign indicates that about 85% of garment workers in Asia and the Middle East have no legal work contract.
That means they have little or no legal recourse when faced with abuse or exploitation.
- Only 2% of garment workers earn a living wage.
- Women face discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
- The daily commute for women workers is often perilous.
How is fashion a feminist issue?
The majority of garment workers are women, many of whom are moms.
But maternity leave?
According to World Bank data, in countries like Bangladesh, only a fraction of women have access to maternity benefits.
We’re talking single-digit percentages.
Discrimination and Harassment
Discrimination is another layer of this terrible cake.
The ILO reports that gender-based violence and harassment are prevalent in the garment industry.
Women workers often face discriminatory practices that make advancement impossible.
Last but not least, getting to and from work is a challenge in itself.
Public transportation in many developing countries isn’t the safest, especially for women.
Overcrowded buses, lack of security, and long travel times make the daily commute another layer of struggle for these women.
History of Fashion and Feminism: How Times Have Changed
- Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony used fashion as activism.
- White attire symbolized purity and high-minded goals.
- Fashion was a tool for messaging even in the early 20th century.
The Suffragette Era
Fashion has long been an ally to women’s movements, and the suffrage era was no exception. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, leaders in the suffrage movement, had differing perspectives on fashion.
Stanton viewed fashion as a form of oppression, while Anthony embraced it.
According to historical documents like Stanton’s speeches and writings, she believed that the fashion of her time constrained women and was designed to make them submissive.
Symbolic Fashion Choices
Let’s talk about color symbolism.
During the suffrage marches, women often wore white. According to the Smithsonian, this choice of color was strategic. White symbolized purity and virtue, aligning with the moral high ground the suffragists were taking.
White attire became so iconic that it’s still recognized today as a symbol of feminist protest.
Fashion and Messaging: Then and Now
Back in the day, fashion wasn’t just about looking good—it was about sending a message. Women like Stanton and Anthony understood the power of clothing to make a statement.
In fact, fashion has often been used as a tool for political and social messaging, from anti-war protests to the civil rights movement.
Modern Fashion Activism
- Fashion activism is an evolving field.
- Ethical buying choices support women in the garment industry.
- Brands with sustainable practices deserve your attention.
From Symbols to Systems
Fashion activism has evolved.
It’s not just about what you wear, but where it comes from.
Nowadays, you can actually help women by being choosy about where you shop. Organizations like Fashion Revolution offer resources that help consumers make ethical choices.
Voting with Your Wallet
And hey, it’s easier than ever to make a difference.
There’s a wave of sustainable fashion brands that prioritize ethical labor practices. Companies like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia are leading the charge.
By choosing these brands, you’re supporting fair wages and safe conditions for women workers.
Small Choices, Big Impact
Small actions can make a big difference.
A report by McKinsey & Company highlighted that 75% of consumers view sustainability as an important factor in their purchasing decisions.
By choosing brands that align with your values, you’re not just getting a new outfit—you’re standing up for the women behind your clothes.
Quick Guide to Fashion and Feminism: Then and Now
|Era / Focus||Key Players||Symbolic Fashion Choices||Impact on Women’s Rights||Modern Action Points|
|Suffragette Era||Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony||Wearing White||Advocacy for voting rights, challenging societal norms||Historical context|
|Unsafe Working Conditions||Garment Workers in Developing Countries||N/A||Exploitation, low wages, unsafe environments||Advocate for better labor laws|
|CEO Pay Gap||CEOs of major fashion brands||N/A||Financial inequality within the industry||Support brands that prioritize equitable pay|
|Modern Fashion Activism||Conscious Consumers, Sustainable Brands||Ethical Brands||Promotion of ethical labor practices, sustainability||Choose sustainable and ethical brands|
The Crossroads of Fashion and Feminism
- Fashion has been both an ally and adversary to feminism.
- Women continue to pay the real price in the fast fashion industry.
- Ethical consumer choices are a modern form of fashion activism.
An Ongoing Dialogue
Fashion and Feminism. Two concepts that have intertwined through history, creating a complex tapestry of exploitation and empowerment.
From Elizabeth Cady Stanton to modern-day ethical consumers, the relationship between fashion and feminism has always been layered.
The decisions we make, both big and small, can make an impact.
The Real Price Tag
We’ve broken down the stark realities of the fast fashion industry—unsafe working conditions, below-minimum wages, and a glaring lack of rights for female garment workers.
It’s not just a tag on a piece of clothing; it’s a reflection of the inequality that women across the globe face.
The Future is Ethical
But here’s the silver lining. We’re in an era where ethical fashion choices can support feminism.
We can actively choose to buy from brands that prioritize women’s rights and fair labor practices. It’s not just a trend; it’s a movement.
Your Choices Matter
The table says it all. Whether you’re reflecting on the historical significance of white attire in the suffrage movement or picking an ethically made shirt off a rack, your choices have power.
Use that power wisely.