I was doing my daily scroll through Instagram yesterday when I happened upon a post by the account @theniftythrifter. The post was entitled, ‘Why the fast fashion industry is a feminist issue’. It got me thinking. I have always known that the fashion industry is detrimental to the environment, but I had never looked at it from a feminist perspective.
Have you ever caught yourself exclaiming, “It was only five pounds!” when someone compliments your new item of clothing? But have you ever wondered, how is this garment of clothing so cheap? Surely the work and materials that are needed to make these clothes should equate it to being a lot more than a fiver? Especially considering minimum wage for over 21s is £7.70 an hour? Primark is probably the first company that springs to mind when someone mentions sweatshops. Under the FAQ section of their website, Primark states that their clothes are such low prices because they “sell a lot of the same items”, meaning they can apparently place large orders and make savings that way. Even their defence, at best, shows a complete disregard for the Earth.
According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, about 80% of garment workers are female. These women earn £3.50 an hour, as revealed by the Channel 4 documentary Dispatches. This is not just a legal issue; it is evidence of the inherent sexism that runs through all sections of our society. This type of exploitation has no race or nationality; it exists to serve our needs. Companies that pride themselves on being ‘feminist’ and promoting girl power by selling T-shirts with empowering phrases on them are secretly exploiting women. In reality, funding these companies arguably revokes any claim you can have on feminism. These companies exploit women by paying them criminally under minimum wage. These women are afraid to speak up, afraid of being abused. These companies that we willingly give our money to in order to keep up to date with the latest fashion trends are not feminist.
When we spend money at these companies, we are essentially endorsing their behaviour. The more we buy, the higher the demand, and consequently the worse the conditions become. No change can be achieved if we turn a blind eye to this behaviour. Change begins with a single conscious action.
So what can we do?
I’m not suggesting abandoning high street fashion altogether. Whilst recognising that sustainable fashion may not be accessible to everyone all the time, change begins with a single step. I think it is important that we try to make small efforts to shop sustainably by funding local boutiques and businesses and making a conscious effort to buy second-hand clothes on sites like Depop or ASOS Marketplace. If there is less demand for these products, then maybe fashion can slow down. We need to recognise that feminism and environmentalism are more than just marketing techniques. Maybe then, change can be within reach.
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The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.
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