Over the last century, a large part of fashion has been very feminist in its approach, but despite the progress feminist fashion has made, it is clear there is still more to be done.
How has feminism in fashion evolved?
Feminism became associated with fashion in the 1920s when the Suffragettes lit the fire and sparked the first major wave of feminism, after white was selected as the colour to lead the suffrage movement's campaign for women's rights.
Over the years, fashion became more revealing, and showcased women’s silhouettes through tight corsets but then quickly shifted to freer, looser styles which allowed more freedom of movement. This meant that instead of pushing masculine garments on women, feminist fashions encouraged women to wear what they thought was best. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the feminist movement had a massive change on fashion trends. Women had the courage to express their individuality more uniquely as it became fashionable for women to take charge and make their clothes, rather than their clothes making them.
Fashion trends tend to come back around decades later, with fast fashion brands making this turnaround even quicker.
Why is fast fashion a feminist issue?
Fast fashion IS a feminist issue. Why? Because it keeps us feminists trapped in a vicious cycle, as fashion is supposed to be empowering and fast fashion is the opposite. More often than not, fast fashion brands aren’t transparent about what goes on behind the scenes of their manufacturing. This could be because brands don’t actually touch the production of their clothes directly, and it's done through their chosen suppliers in developing countries. Why is this an issue for feminists? Well, a feminist approach to the fast fashion industry takes into account a lot of factors:
Gender pay gaps and unfair wages
While gender pay gaps have been a largely discussed topic since the beginning of time, this issue is still yet to be resolved - more than even for garment workers in the fashion industry. While approximately 80% of garment workers are women, they earn significantly less than the male workers. Factories in Pakistan have one of the largest garment pay gaps in the industry, with their male employees earning 30% more - and it’s important to also note that the management positions in these factories are male-dominated (are we surprised?).
Un-safe working conditions
Dangerous working conditions are often seen in garment production but workers need their jobs to survive. Fires breaking out in factories are a lot more common than you’d think - in Bangladesh alone, there is estimated to be at least one factory fire a week. Many women work 60 to 100 hour weeks in poor conditions, working overtime below minimum wage, and sometimes without a lunch break on shift.
H&M is just one of the brands that still use sweatshop-like environments to manufacture their clothing, and they have been outed numerous times for forcing workers in Bangladesh and even children in the Philippines to work in unsafe conditions. In response to this, H&M did in fact put out a statement in 2016 explaining how they do not tolerate child labour in any form and have expressed how the laws and polices have not been breached by employing children below the age of 18. Here’s what they said: “When they are working it is therefore not a case of child labour, according to international labour laws. ILO instead stresses the importance of not excluding this age group from work in Myanmar.”
Sexual harassment in the workplace
Women, more often than not, face sexual assault and exploitation while working in factories, and workers have been pressured to have relations with managers. Human Rights Watch launched an investigation which they found sexual harassment prominent in garment factories in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Burma. Sadly, even following on from this, there is still very little focus on the gender-based violence and exploitation faced by female workers.
How to help
Think before you buy. If you’re about to purchase something new, only shop at brands who can prove that their supply chain is ethical, sustainable, and supports women - do this for everything; whether it is clothes, shoes, or accessories!
If you’re unsure, have a quick check on their website or simply just ask! The companies that are ethical will have nothing to hide and will be more than happy to provide you with the information.