Anna Greenwood 23rd February 2018
In November 2014 we found out the “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts worn proudly by the likes of Ed Miliband and Benedict Cumberbatch were made by women making as little as 62p an hour. Many took issue with the contradiction of a shirt striving for equality which was made with sweatshop labour.
Four years later, step into any H&M or New Look and the dominating trend is straight up girl power. A range of t-shirts and jumpers proclaiming slogans like “empower women” and “girls bite back” jump out at you from the shelves.
A few years ago this may have been a ballsy move (unfortunate choice of words for the topic, I know) but in 2018 the trend could not be hotter across the high-street and the internet. There are a whole range of reasons why not everyone supports clothes like this, from some shirts being trans exclusive, to the idea that the brands are simply jumping on the feminist bandwagon in order to make money. While I am on the side of those who believe this is a positive trend, there are those who believe this allows “fast-fashion” brands to mass produce these clothes through sweatshop labour, by the young girls the shirts claim to support.
Many of the clothes sellers using Amazon are ethically ambiguous anonymous companies we know nothing about
For many, the hypocrisy of clothes that scream feminist is too much to bear. It is very likely that your shirt proclaiming “Girls Must Support Girls” was made by very young girls in a factory in Bangladesh in horrific working conditions. Brands such as H&M, New Look and Primark are all known to be guilty of using cheap labour, but are all likely spots to find your trendy feminist garments. Another big seller of clothing like this is Amazon, which is a famously problematic company with well-known unpleasant working conditions. What’s more — many of the clothes sellers using the site are ethically ambiguous anonymous companies we know nothing about.
However, the idea that everyone is able to buy ethically sources clothes is simply unrealistic. Your average t-shirt made from ethically sourced materials, and with fair labour, comes in at about £35 from retailers like Birdsong, Fat Face and Monsoon. This is expensive compared to standard high street prices, and likely out of the affordable price range for many people. These shops are also often not selling the feminist clothes seen on the shelves of the high street — usually opting for plainer, more worthy designs.
While one might argue it is hypocritical for a company to profit selling feminism through cheap labour, unless you’re going to swap out your entire wardrobe for an ethical-only alternative, there is no reason why people should feel ashamed of buying these clothes.
For young girls, seeing their rights and wellbeing celebrated as a fashion trend can be very empowering
Seeing my teenage cousin in a t-shirt reading “empower women” made me incredibly proud. Especially for young girls, seeing their rights and wellbeing celebrated as a fashion trend normalises feminist messages, which means they’re more likely to grow up believing them as standard.
It can be guaranteed that almost every garment you own was made using cheap labour, so if we’re going to wear clothes like this anyway, why not wear some with a positive message?
Until the wider problem of unethical clothing can be tackled as a whole, there is no reason why we shouldn’t get to rock a tee with a feminist message, especially if it makes you feel inspired or empowered, and has the potential to inspire others around you.
If fast fashion companies are going to produce cheap clothes to make money, ones with feminist messages are a much more positive way to turn a profit, compared with awful examples from the past like Urban Outfitters’ infamous “eat less” t-shirt.
And if this still doesn’t sit well with you, there are sites like Feminist Apparel, which supports Etsy artists by selling their designs and sharing the profits, but also makes all its beautiful feminist clothes completely ethically in the US.
So rock that feminist tee, and if you can buy it ethically, even better.
Anna Greenwood 23rd February 2018