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Fashion is a Feminist Issue

Today is a day intended to commemorate the struggle for women’s rights. Originally called International Working Women’s day it was first celebrated in 1909 in remembrance of a 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. The 1908 march consisted of approximately 15,000 garment workers who marched through the city demanding social and political rights.

While we’ve undoubtedly made a lot of progress since 1908, women (and men) continue to fight for more equal representation across leadership positions, pay equality and balancing employment with parenthood. The uptake of the Women’s March across major centers has in large part reinvigorated the “feminist fight” but I can’t help but wonder if the movement has to a certain extent, forgotten some of it’s roots.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a pro-feminist rally, but I can’t help but feel frustrated over some of the things I’ve seen unfold over the last few months. People have been gathering around the world to protest and advocate legislation and policies relating to human rights whilst ignoring (albeit potentially inadvertently) the original intent of the women who were arguably the pioneers of the entire movement. 

Of course one can argue that garment worker rights in developing countries is a separate issue and to a certain extent that’s true. But when campaigners choose to wear pro-feminist clothing that is most likely made by exploited women and children in developing nations it must surely be considered un-feminist and something that certainly should be factored into future campaigns.

There are approximately 24 million garment workers globally, 80% of which are women. Garment workers rights have been coming to the forefront over the last few years but much is still to be done to ensure worker safety, fair pay and opportunities for those that make our clothing. 

With a world that is increasingly connected we have to continually ask ourselves what the unintended consequences of any actions we take might be. Of course supporting immigration reform, environmental sustainability, LGBTQ rights, freedom of religion, racial equality and women’s rights are important...but we must look at all of these problems from a systems perspective. How many hundreds of thousands of t-shirts have been created as a result of these campaigns and what is the impact of these purchasing decisions on the environment and people that make them?

I’m privileged to be surrounded by some amazingly talented women and doubly privileged to have so many pro-feminist men in my life as well. What I struggle with is the disconnect some (not all) of these people have in recognising that fashion has and will continue to be a feminist issue. For me International Women’s Day is about recognising the progress that’s been made, while understanding there is a lot more work that we still need to do in order to create a more equal and just society for people everywhere.  

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