The fashion industry is a multibillion-dollar global enterprise and its purpose is to make and sell as many clothes as possible. This also means the industry can only exist within a capitalist system that survives by exploiting women, children, and men in the global South mostly.
As during colonization, brands, mostly from the global North are using their economic power and influence to take advantage of the population from countries like India, China or Bangladesh. They choose these countries particularly for their mass-scale producing farms, the lack of labor laws, or strong trade unions. The fast fashion industry is right now based on the exploration of a workforce and resources coming from the global south. Some brands can have the upper hand in those countries. They have strong economic power and some states can’t compete with it.
Decolonization is the process by which colonies become independent of the colonizing country. The process needs to start in the global South and North but it will take time. So what can we do in the meantime?
As consumers, we should start by asking ourselves who made our clothes. The garment industry employs approximately 60 million workers and 80% of whom are women. More than 70% in China, in Bangladesh the share is 85%, and in Cambodia as high as 90%. They work under precarious working conditions, with no health insurance or social coverage.
But why are the vast majority of people working in the textile industry women? asked Jeanine Glöyer, founder and CEO of the label Jyoti-Fair works during her TED conference. According to her, due to the neoliberalism capitalism occurring in the ’70s, industries turn to exploitable workers in order to reduce their costs of production. Unfortunately, women in those countries believed that because they are less skilled, uneducated, they are in the position to demand higher wages.
In addition, in factories, they are exposed to sexual and psychological abuse. « Most female workers do not see the garment industry as a humanly sustainable livelihood and few remain within the industry for longer than five years because of occupational hazards, unsustainable working hours, and manager preference for hiring young women and new hires because they will have less employment-related injuries and to save on seniority pay increases. »
Most of the garment workers live in the countryside, therefore they have to pay for their own transportation. They don’t have savings and are indebted just by working.
On an international level, by the phase-out of the Multifibre Arrangement, the fast production and lower price, the working conditions in the garment industry became worse in 2005. States, The International Labour Organisation (ILO), human rights treaties, and certificates can affect labour conditions but the implementation is too slow. ILO standards or human rights treaties are lacking effective enforcement mechanisms. We believed that states should ratify more biding treaties especially The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
We believe that consumers have the power to influence the system. By choosing sustainable brands you are telling fast fashion brands that you won’t be part of this oppression.
Mainstream feminism or Bourgeois Feminism is mainly white and the most represented feminism today. This kind of feminism is therefore not inclusive. For Angela Davis, an African American political activist and author, the hallmark of feminism today is intersectionality. Intersectionality « is a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face ».
Mainstream feminism is therefore irrelevant to poor women, working-class women, women of color, trans women, trans women of color… « Liberation must be liberation for all. » Françoise Vergès, activist and political scientist agrees. In her book « Un féminisme décolonial », she demonstrates that « the comfortable life of women from the bourgeoisie in the world is possible because millions of racialized and exploited women are maintaining this comfort by making their clothes, cleaning their homes and offices, taking care of their children … ».
Women in the global North fought for the right to work but the global South women never stopped working and they are working all the time. By buying clothes from fast fashion brands, we in the global North profit from the exploitation of women from the global south.Therefore, we should definitely stop wearing those « we should all be feminist » t-shirts and educated ourselves on this matter. From the confection to the promotion, women’s bodies are used in the textile industry. It is time to change the narrative and become more conscious about who made our clothes.
The fast fashion industry is creating a constant need for new clothes by ignoring the suffering of women in the global South. At COSH! we want to share our knowledge in order to help you shop less and more consciously. We collaborate with brands and stores that have deep connections with the people who produce the clothes and the materials. All brands on COSH! are committed to a more honest manufacturing industry which includes good working conditions for women, a short supply chain (that could reduce the risk of abuses), and transparency. We have a lot of sustainable alternatives for you. Discover brands with our brand checker in your style and budget.
Some inspiring brands
The brand J-Label is founded by Janneke and Judith, two Dutch women with a passion for fashion and nature. On their website, you can see that the production takes place in factories in India that are GOTS and SA 8000 certified. This means good working conditions and fair wages.Shop J-lab3l here
Go As U R is a cosmetic brand founded by a powerful woman Annelies Lambert. The formulas are developed locally, in a Belgian lab, and on European labour legislation which also means a short supply chain. Plus with every purchase, the brand invests 1€ in projects that support women worldwide. Go as u.r collaborate with Women's WorldWideWeb, an organization that empowers girls and women in various domains: education, networking, microfinaShop Go as U R here