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Feminism-washing in fashion

When I think of feminism and a modern woman championing and promoting it, one woman comes to mind – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A Nigerian writer who defines herself as a happy feminist. She is world-renowned for her novels and short fiction confronting gender construction and sexuality.

“We should all be feminists”

Adichie is perhaps most widely-known for her 2012 TED talk “We should all be feminists. This catalysed a worldwide conversation about feminism and shortly after was published as a book in 2014.

Even now, the impact ofAdichie’s talk is almost inexplicable. From her poignant words sampling in Beyonce’s hit song Flawless; to featuring on a slogan tee for Maria Grazia Chiuri’s first collection for Christian Dior.

But is this really the way to promote feminism? With a feminist being defined as a person who ‘believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes’ it begs the question if sampling a catchphrase on a $710 t-shirt is the best way forward.

Feminism and equality

Feminism should be driving the fight for equality. But, perhaps unintentionally, the exorbitant price tag prevents a whole host of women being able to afford it. However, it seems the high-street has made up for this financial burden.

Thanks? to fast fashion, replicates of Dior’s tee were soon appearing in the likes of H&M and Forever 21. Ironic that fast-fashion retailers were championing feminism engrossed apparel, when most likely the women making it had never been subjected to any feministic mantra.

This presents an entirely awkward juxtaposition as, especially in recent years, fast fashion has been subject to vast criticism. Garment workers, the majority women, historically have been underpaid, subject to long working hours and unsafe conditions.

Does fast-fashion feminist merchandise support women’s causes?

Fast-fashion retailers are using the catwalk as a catalogue to replicate from. But this sees the co-option of feminism, along with engagement in the practices that – at times – demoralise women.

Recent movements like Me Too and the Women’s March have seen a surge in the amount and range of merchandise sporting general women’s issues. These range from clothing, hats and bags to jewellery.

Some believe this upswing in merchandise is actually ‘cheapening the fight.’ Buying a t-shirt championing a women’s rights logo might feel impactful. But how many people actually attend events or volunteer in support of this activism?

It’s not the individual, but the multi-nationals

I’m not saying that wearing a t-shirt with a feministic quote embossed on the front is a bad thing. Firstly, this is letting others know where your views lie (you’re a feminist ) and secondly, it is spreading awareness of the growing movement.

The bigger issue is multinationals ruining the sincerity of the message. Have you heard of rainbow-washing? When companies adopt symbols and slogans from the LGBTQIA community – and imprint them on apparel. This is despite never having voiced an interest, or given any assistance to that community. It seems fake and forced.

This history of “hijacking” movements detriments the feminist issue. Clearly the aim is only to boost profits when core values of company and cause might not even be remotely aligned.

Fashion as a positive platform

I think it is fair to say that fashion has been used as a platform to communicate individual identity amongst cultural diplomacy. Historically, the suffragettes come to mind.

A prominent example as a stylistic image was created via a white, purple and green colour scheme. This enabled their belief of dignity, purity and hope to be personified through purple, white and green respectively.

Fashion is quick to respond to what is happening in the world as it is a prime opportunity to speak to a global audience. So maybe it should be no surprise that designers are using scarce catwalk time to publicise their beliefs and opinion.

Fashion and Feminism

Fashion definitely is a tool used to promote feminism. For as far as we can remember it has retorted to what is happening in the world, through: art, music design, technology, politics or historical movements.

Fashion could be used as an even more positive tool to promote feminism. And making sure garment workers producing the merchandise are paid a fair wage, would be the best place to start.

Additionally, if companies further realigned their intrinsic values with the feministic-branded merchandise they are selling, consumers would believe the message was then nothing but sincere.

Whether we view it as marketers commercialising the movement of feminist fashion, there is no denying that feministic apparel is making feminism “cool” again.


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