What Does Your Empowering Slogan Tee Really Stand For?
Your tee says ‘Girl Power’ it says ‘The Future is Female’, or perhaps it reads Girl Boss’ and ‘Women Support Women’. Here in the UK, we’ve come a long way since punk, homemade tees and mile-high statements on barricades. Protest by way of style has become commonplace, but when did your empowering slogan tee begin to lack meaning? The answer lies in fast fashion.
What does that empowering slogan tee really say?
Making a statement? Backing a cause you believe in? Or playing into the hands of throwaway culture? Global brands are quick to use female empowerment when marketing their products. But when they exert relentless pressure to get more products for less money, it’s women workers who pay the price.
There have been multiple cases in recent years of an empowering slogan tee being removed from the market due to claims of malpractice at the garment factories that produced the run. Or, in some cases, of charity tees being copied, reproduced at minimum cost to the brand and sold by fast fashion outlets.
On occasion we’ve heard stories of charity pledges that never resulted in a donation and on plenty of ocassions, seen statement T-shirts with no cause peddled by brands with a reputation for unethical supply chains.
Whistles, The Fawcett Society, Elle Magazine, Comic Relief – these aren’t the brands you’d expect to come under fire. Often issues of garment worker exploitation are masked by the fact that many brands simply don’t know where the raw materials of their products originate from. Supply chains can be long, murky and incredibly untransparent. But this isn’t an excuse for unethical practices.
A feminist world for garment workers?
It’s estimated that 80% – 90% of the fashion labour market identify as women. ‘We should all be feminists’ is an admirable phrase, but when it’s emblazoned across an empowering slogan tee made from cotton farmed and processed by women who don’t earn a living wage, stitched together by women who work 16 hour days and have no access to worker’s unions, childcare or healthcare and sold on the high street with a mark up of more than 100% the tee itself seems decidedly unfeminist.
Author Andi Zeisler discusses the concept of ‘marketplace feminism’ in her writings – the idea that feminism and women’s advocacy can be derailed and depoliticed when reduced to slogans and tropes.
Beyonce’s Ivy Park line for Topshop has been critiqued as an example of marketplace feminism in action. Rerportedly, female garment workers earned 54 cents per hour when manufacturing the athleisure line.
Sophie Slater wrote for The Guardian that “across the fashion industry in general many workers are paid pennies an hour, and [are] living and sleeping in cramped compounds – no one can deny the level of exploitation that is endured for the sake of leisurewear. So to pin the blame solely on Beyoncé is absurd, and perhaps yet another example of the double standards that women of colour face in the fashion industry.”
Brands that deliver on the dream
We’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite ethical and sustainable brands fighting the good fight and making empowering slogan tees that empower the women who made them.
Labour Behind The Label said in 2014 “the issues of long hours, low pay and the exploitation of women are endemic in the industry. If what you want is a quick turnaround T-shirt that you can sell in your shop then trying to buy one ethically is a more or less an impossible task.”
Consumers are far more empowered than perhaps they might have been in 2014. More technology exists to support awareness of greenwashing, brand research and red flags and certifications to look for. But we still have a long way to go.