What is feminist fashion? For me and many others, it is fashion that empowers Both the wearer and the maker. While many brands marketise feminist messaging they are not committed to the empowerment of women throughout their value chains.
As we march into International Women's Day with a proliferation of razor-sharp hashtags under our belts, it's important to voice the struggles of those who are not experiencing a newfound wave of empowerment and are unable to have their voices heard.
In the global north, we have seen a profound shift in consciousness regarding what does not count as consent, which until very recently allowed rapists get away with abuse time and time again under that guise that "she was asking for it". In fashion spaces, we have been drumming the simple yet ignored message that our clothing does not determine our not consent. A fashion designer whose work has particularly inspired me is that of Eleanor Bandey who states "A political statement on paper is important, but a political statement on your body, is powerful." Powerful indeed.
However, we must remember that 80% of garment factory workers are women and that many of these women deal with sexual harassment on a day-to-day-basis. This is not to mention the plethora of other issues affecting women in vulnerable conditions from low pay and forced overtime to period checks and being fired for getting pregnant.
On the note of bodily autonomy, another cause that resonated with me is Good Blood's period power project. Good Blood sells pink period badges with peach or wave motifs to inform fellow commuters that you are on your TOTM. As someone who experiences severe period pain, I can relate to why this is so valuable to highlight. If someone recognised that I was on my period and offered me a seat on the tube I and I believe many other women would feel so relieved and grateful. Let's spread the word!
Finally, an article on feminist fashion would not be complete without raising a glass to Birdsong London. Birdsong is a feminist fashion brand who work to the motto "no sweatshop, no photoshop" and employ refugee women who are paid a fair wage to embroid and hand paint their garments. Tounge-in-cheek designs are quintessentially Birdsong with avocado and pomegranate boob-placed motifs making it to the front lines.
Birdsong is a socailly aware brand, who recently they shared this meme which powerfully highlights the hypocrisy of feminist marketing that fails to protect it's predominately female and economically vulnerable workforce.
Birdsong's meme leads us to the controversy of the trending 'This is what a feminist looks like' t-shirts, worn by male celebrities to support the feminist movement and encourage men to join in, which has proved to be a difficult task so far. Oh, and the t-shirts are also raising money for charity. Seems legit right? The Fawcett Society and Elle UK working with high street retailer Whistles, however, have come under fire since it has been discovered that the tops were made in sweatshops. This essentially undermines the entire feminist cause and contradicts notions of empowerment that the t-shirts encourage.
While today should be full of celebrations of the recent victories, it is important to remember that many across the world don't have this opportunity. Today approximately 75 million people work to make clothes for the global market and of this 80 % are women who are often paid less than $3 a day and therefore live in poverty unable to afford life’s necessities. Many face daily exploitation in the form of verbal, physical and sexual abuse all the while working up to and beyond 16 hours a day in unsafe garment factories. The struggle of garment factory workers is further perpetuated by the disallowance of trade unions and those who do take on an activist role are often met with the stick or even gunshots.
Ultimately, if we're going to be feminist in our shopping choices (which we all should!) let's make sure it's through buying clothing that supports the livelihoods of marginalised women who have had their voices stolen from them rather than buying slogan t-shirts that undermine the very cause they are propagating. Although if you find a feminist slogan t-shirt that is also ethically made know that you've hit the jackpot ;)
Happy International Women's Day!