Recently I was confronted (not for the first time, mind you) by a beautiful and striking artwork on Instagram that declared “Fast Fashion is a Feminist Issue”, which of course pandered to my pompous feminist sensibilities. But for the first time it actually made me stop and question the reformative validity of the statement - its ability to create solidarity and a desire to affect a paradigm shift in the way we think about and consume fashion. My first thought was that this statement is problematic: Surely it will create a barrier whereby a large group of people will feel isolated and excluded from this issue? The word "feminism" still strikes fear in the hearts of scores of people - either because they don't fully understand the goals and ideals of this movement, or because they still identify it as a movement for women, by women, with only women's agenda in mind.
For those of you who still don't know - feminism advocates gender equality for women and men. It's original goal was for humanity to recognize that women are of equal social and intellectual status as men and should therefore have equal rights and be exposed to equal opportunity.
Anyway...this is not a discourse on feminism; but it's relation to fast fashion, if there is one and the implications of this theoretical link.
So by saying that 'fast fashion is a feminist issue', are we not inadvertently excluding a majority group of people who would otherwise acknowledge and be sympathetic to the plight of sustainability and conscious consumption? Surely this is a global issue that must be acknowledged and addressed by everyone, not just people who identify as feminists? In this, I could not understand the connection and disagreed with the statement at face value, because I believe that this issue is bigger than any individual group's claim to it.
The next step was to go beyond face value and gain a better understanding of the bold proclamation: I went back to the Instagram artist and raised my concerns about naming fast fashion a "feminist issue" and asked her to explain the link between the two concepts - which she did wonderfully succinctly. The link then seemed rather obvious, something that had never occurred to me before...which made me think that ignorance on this topic was probably pretty prevalent. I then went and read a few articles on the subject and this is what I have come to understand about it:
Feminism is a social movement based on principles of justice, morality and equality. It is an agenda grounded in human conscience that seeks rightness and fairness. However, in a social atmosphere saturated with social media, content creation, materialism and consumerism, feminism has become trendy - like most other 'life choices' related to consumption - and is no longer merely a matter of ethics; it has become a social badge of honour.
And what did the fashion industry do? They capitalised.
They identified the trend and used their age old marketing tool of pandering to female insecurities and literally printed that badge of honour on t-shirts, bags, posters, mugs... And who are the people making these garments that remind us 'the future is female', 'real men are feminists', 'girl power' and 'feminist AF'?
Women. Exploited women who are forced to work under terrible conditions for minimal pay. 80% of the garment industry is made up of women and our cheap fashion choices ride on the backs of these poorly treated labourers whose working conditions allow for neither dignity nor a meaningful human life: Feminist goals attributable to any working woman? As feminists, we are inadvertently and unconsciously supporting and facilitating the exploitation and oppression of women.
In the last two decades we have seen the increase in demonstration and reform for sustainability and conscious consumption (material and dietary); yet the plight of exploited women in third world countries has not received even a fraction of the diligence or outrage like the enthusiasm dedicated to veganism and the wide range of products dedicated to 'green' and this is evident in the lack of change in our buying habits and the profits of the fashion industry. We will fight for animals and the environment with unbridled ferocity (both noble and necessary), yet when it comes to humans we turn a blind eye for the love of affordable fashion.
If you want to take the moral high road about one issue, you should probably be equally sanctimonious about all prevalent social issues regarding human rights violations...and in the meantime, take off your t-shirt that says “the future is female” and think about where it came from and who made it.
My conclusion is that "fast fashion is a feminist issue" is not factually untrue and that there is an undeniable link that is significant and hugely important that we recognise. But it’s just a facet of the truth...a perspective which reveals the double-standard and hypocrisy of the fashion industry and sheds light on our misguided choices. There is a wonderful organisation that I have recently encountered called Good On You and they are dedicated to making brands accountable and responsible for their human and environmental impact. They have an app which lists hundreds of clothing brands which give them a rating out of five for human, planet and animal impact - fantastic! Do yourself a favour and download this app and become a more conscious buyer.
Cover image by: Lorna Robey Design. Check out her Instagram