One group of women who were able to protest for better conditions for garment workers initiated what we now know as International Women’s Day
. That was over 100 years ago but for many women around the world, little has changed. Yes, fashion has brought women jobs and incremental economic advantages, but job security and workers' rights are still little more than a pipe dream.
By wearing clothes that perpetuate the mistreatment of other women, we’re no more feminist than the men who decide we should get paid less than our male counterparts. Sophie Slater, who co-founded the London-based feminist fashion brand Birdsong
, says it’s crucial we remember that it’s all part of the same conversation. “We can’t campaign for equal working rights and maternity pay on the one hand and still be perpetuating this exploitative system on the other.” Birdsong’s manifesto is ‘no sweatshop, no photoshop’ and promises to only sell clothes that empower women: at every stage of production, advertising and sales.
But how, as well-educated, liberal western women (and yes, men too, but mainly women), have we ended up here? “The reason why fashion is a feminist issue is because right now the fashion business as we know it is extremely male,” suggests Fashion Revolution founder Orsola De Castro. “So it’s not surprising that something that is intrinsically as poetic as fashion – or was so poetic as fashion and so female – has changed in its nature so fast, because it’s been taken over by male business and a very different formula.”