Since its inception in the late 90s, fast fashion has become a staple on our high streets and in our wardrobes. With 52 seasons, billions of clothes being made each year and high profit margins, fast fashion is a capitalist dream. Companies like Zara, H&M, Topshop and many others are thriving with Instagram culture and the need to have a new outfit for every occasion - the OOTD (Outfit Of The Day) hashtag has over 314 million posts on Instagram.
There’s just one problem: exploitation.
The fast fashion industry is exploiting both people and the planet. However, in this article I’m focusing solely on the human aspect.
Around 80% of the people making our clothes are women aged 18-35 and it’s estimated that they earn a meagre 1-3% of the items retail value. These womxn have little to no rights and spend hours working intensive jobs just to survive, most being paid less than minimum wage, and almost certainly not a living wage.
Intersectional Feminism is defined as “the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect” according to Merriam-Webster. It basically means that discrimination can deepen when several factors are combined, such as gender, race or class. If your feminism excludes anyone that isn’t a white cishet able-bodied womxn, then it’s not really feminism.
On International Women’s Day, many fast fashion brands took to social media to talk about how they empowered and supported womxn. Many even sold clothing with feminist slogans and imagery. Can anyone else smell the hypocrisy? Those ‘feminist’ t-shirts were likely made by womxn of colour, in an unsafe factory for less than minimum wage.
This article is not meant to shame anyone who buys fast fashion. It is not the fault of the consumer that the brands' business model is built on exploitation and we shouldn’t be expected to have to wade through their greenwashing and vague statements about ethics & sustainability. For many, the high street is the only option - ethical fashion is still for privileged people who have the money, time and body type to consume it.
Due to this, the question of ‘Can you be a feminist and still buy fast fashion?’ is a tricky one. The fast fashion industry is still something that people seem to either ignore or just know nothing about - ignorance is bliss, as they say. We need to talk more about the exploitations of womxn, particularly those of colour and consider how we spend our money and what we’re supporting.
For feminists who are able to, buying from ethical brands, second-hand stores or just buying less is a responsibility we should bear. If you need to buy from fast fashion brands, email and ask them, ‘Who Made My Clothes?'. Share information on your stories and follow people who are graciously educating us on this topic (recommendations at the end of this article) - every little action can make a difference.
I’ll leave you with this: before you buy that t-shirt with ‘Empowered Women Empower Women’ written on it, consider how empowered the womxn who made it is.
5 Ethical Fashion Influencers To Support: