International Women’s Day – Women Changing The Fashion Industry
International Women’s Day – By Jenny Fyans, Compare Ethics Contributor
I recently got into an argument with my brother-in-law about whether feminism is still necessary, and whether women who foster the ideology can cause more harm in society than good. It was an emotive topic for me. I was in the “of COURSE we still need feminism” camp, however I can see why this debate rears its ugly head more frequently than one might like.
One reason is because feminism, as an ideology, covers a huge spectrum of issues – ranging from the fact that only 27% of full-time chief executives and senior officials in the UK are women, to the continued existence in many countries of state-sanctioned violence against women (and everything in between, and beyond).
A quick search on Urban Dictionary for the term ‘feminism’ will give you an idea of some of the arguments feminism comes up against. There seems to be particular vitriol aimed at ‘modern’ feminism as opposed to ‘traditional’ feminism; protesting for the right to vote back in the early 20th Century is now seen as acceptable and worthy, whereas protesting against the sexualisation of women in the media or being offended by cat-calling is ‘feminism gone mad’ to these people. (I have to remind myself that the Suffragettes were hugely unpopular amongst the mainstream masses and seen as a scourge on society for a long time; so the comments from today’s anti-feminism crowd shouldn’t surprise us, sadly.)
Are your clothes anti-feminist?
You may be wondering why I’m going down this particular rabbit hole. It’s because right now the fashion industry alone provides us with many reasons for why we must continue to shine a spotlight on the issues women face across the world today.
Fashion is rife with reports of blatant sexual harassment, from well-known cases such as American Apparel’s Dov Charney and Ted Baker’s Ray Kelvin, to those at the other end of the supply chain, such as in Asian garment factories.
According to War on Want’s Stitched Up report, women make up 85% of the workforce in Bangladeshi garment factories and the majority are exploited by their employers; working long hours in poor conditions for poverty wages and being denied basic maternity rights. As the report notes, “many British clothing retailers source their cheapest clothing from Bangladesh”, and yet do not take any meaningful steps to ensure the safety and fair treatment of the workers making their clothes.
For today’s conscious consumer, high street retailers just don’t cut it with their stance on women’s equality. They might talk the talk and even run campaigns that hail feminism and show images of empowered women. But if you even just scratch the surface of their policies and practices (or lack thereof) along their supply chain, it becomes clear that the women working in the garment factories are not of any real concern to them.
Ethical fashion brands such as Good Krama, on the other hand, quite rightly believe that “feminist t-shirts should be made within ethical and fair boundaries that respect the principles of feminism” and ensure this through their own collection.
The fashion industry as a force of good for women
Let’s be clear here: women working in fashion is not bad. Quite the contrary, fashion can be a powerful force for women to gain economic independence. Women being mistreated and exploited by the fashion industry, however, is. Indeed, it is this very industry that can even create opportunities for women to empower themselves or free them from the chains of poverty.
In countries such as India, where the fashion industry relies heavily on garment workers, women are more likely to be trapped in poverty without access to secure work or an independent income. WYNAD Clothing, an ethical fashion brand founded in Kerala, India, seeks to address this and works with a number of suppliers in India which provide secure, fairly paid working opportunities for women, some of whom have fled the sex industry.
When Katia Nicolas, founder and CEO of Good Krama, was travelling in Cambodia she found that “close to a million Cambodians work in garment manufacturing, and 91% of them are women with salaries that fall below the living wage.” This inspired her to create a fashion brand that could be a force for good.
“We partnered with like-minded social enterprises and weaving communities to ensure high quality fabrics, socially responsible manufacturing, and sustainable consciousness. We get so inspired by the weaving communities of women who make our visions and designs come to life! They have so much fun with it and it allows for their creative freedom to shine. They are proud of their craft and it shows!”
Jo Godden, founder of ethical activewear brand RubyMoon, tells us that she created her company after years working in the unsustainable fashion industry. “I decided to become part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Jo says. “So I founded RubyMoon, and named it after my grandmother who inspired me. I was so tired of seeing all that is wrong with the industry each and every day.
“In the west, 80% of consumer purchases are made by women. So it makes sense that women should help other women via ethical purchasing.” – Jo Godden
As well as addressing the issue of toxic fast fashion by producing her own sustainable and eco-friendly activewear collection, Jo also ensures that the business helps provide more opportunities for women around the world to start their own ventures: “We donate all our profits to women entrepreneurs in 14 developing countries.”
Ethical swimwear brand WeAreNativ was started by Rosey Hocknell with the intention of being “more than a brand”. As Rosey tells us, “it’s a vehicle for change and a statement that ethical, sustainable swimwear can also be innovative high fashion. Bringing this message to the masses is a big part of the vision. Creating a label, especially a conscious one, is a challenge. But the deeper meaning and purpose gives us unending motivation.”
The changing tide of ethical fashion
It’s perhaps this overwhelming desire for change, and increasing dissatisfaction with the status quo, that sees all these fantastic women-led brands coming through. But the best thing about these brands is that the quality of their designs and the materials they use are shit-hot. These women are bringing style, sass and a social conscience all together in their collections, and that’s what makes them so exciting.
“I decided to start [ethical fashion brand] Gung Ho because I was tired of inspirational women who were working on world changing projects and were wearing clothes that matched their ethics but didn’t match their personality,” says Gung Ho’s designer and founder, Sophie Dunster. “If fashion is a first impression of someone, you want it to really showcase who you are – and not everyone wants to wear plain coloured and minimalist clothing! If that first impression becomes a talking point on an issue you feel passionately about, even better.”
It’s fair to say that, until recently, ethical fashion wasn’t well-known for its creativity or covetable style. Thankfully, this tide is turning and we’re now seeing cool, exciting and often stunning designs coming through.
Here’s WeAreNativ’s Rosey telling us more about her creative inspiration:
“Music has always been a big source of inspiration, it ignites my creative energy. I’m also obsessed with nature – the shapes, colours, sounds and smells, it triggers a meditation which leads to a flood of ideas. Conversely much of my motivation comes from the world of sci fi fantasy, angular robot shapes and industrial textures. On the design front this is where the organic world and the digital realm merge. It’s a happy fusion of opposing forces.”
Celebrating women on International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day on 8th March each year provides the opportunity for everyone – whether or not they outwardly support ‘feminism’ – to celebrate the achievements of women, and to consider the inequalities faced by women around the world today.
“This is a day to celebrate all the women in our lives and their achievements, big or small,” says Good Krama’s Katia. “Even though these topics should be addressed every damn day, it’s a time to talk about gender equality, fair wages and engage in discussions to further women empowerment in the world on a day where women are at the center of focus worldwide.”
For Sam Reardon, the co-founder and creative director of sustainable streetwear brand, Cariki, International Women’s Day is all about celebration. “Celebrating women who have forged the path for more opportunities and equality. In doing so, they inspire me to do more for women everywhere. It makes me so proud to see so many girl bosses out there!”
For RubyMoon, International Women’s Day provided the perfect backdrop to their brand launch back in 2011. “Each year on International Women’s Day we do something special to celebrate,” says Jo. This year, they’re commemorating they’re 8th year by releasing a new surf-and-swim top, which they’ve called ‘Yasmeen’ after the 27-year-old woman entrepreneur in the Palestinian Territories who RubyMoon is supporting to expand her hairdressing business.
“Each garment RubyMoon creates is named after one woman supported,” Jo explains. As a result of these investments, women are financially empowered, provided access to better healthcare, education and nutrition for themselves and their families, lifting themselves out of poverty and precarious living conditions. We are happy and grateful to announce that so far we have loaned to 260 women.”
There are so many ways you can observe the day, but my personal favourite this #IWD2019 will be to support one of these great brands who are genuinely making a difference to women’s lives across the world.