Who made your clothes?

So, I’m starting this blog with an exercise. I want you to look down your body. Run your hands over every item of clothing that you’re wearing, every layer and feel right down to your shoes. Feel that material and look close at the stitches. Now, think about all the other hands that have touched your clothes too. Do you know how many? Now, check the labels. Made in where? Vietnam? China? Bangladesh? And made by who?

Did you know that, if you’re reading this, you have 4x the amount of clothes in your wardrobe than your parents did? Did you know that 1 in 4 people around the world work in the fashion industry as we know it, with 98% of those people living below the poverty line, and 80% of those people being women? And is any of this making any of us happier? Hell to the no. Far from it.

I want you to meet Nazma, who at 13 years old, started work in a Bangladeshi garment factory; earning a wage equivalent to £2 a month. Nazma’s life has been extremely difficult, because not only has she worked in conditions, that some consider as modern-day slavery since she was 13 years old, but she’s also seen the hardships and inequalities of hundreds just like her.

I saw Nazma last year. She was angry with the world and asking for change.

“Women are earning £50 a month. They make your t-shirts, your dresses, your leggings. The multi-national and retailers come to where the labour markets are cheap. And when clothes are cheap, women are cheap. Nothing comes for free in this world, nothing is discount, women pay with their blood and their sweat… Women are not respected. Women should be safe in all workplaces, everywhere.” – Nazma Akter, London, 2017

And above is Laboni and her husband, who moved to Bangladesh to find work and a new life. Laboni, alongside 1,137 others died when her factory collapsed five years ago.  The Rana Plaza story still hits me hard because it’s a story so common and a story that is never taken seriously enough. A story where workers rights and concerns were ignored, and the clothes that now fill our wardrobes were made at a human cost, just like so many others.

Most of my wardrobe, and yours, would have started in the hands of girls like Laboni and Nazma. They then end up in shops worth billions of pounds. Worth enough money to pay these women and men fair living wages. Worth enough money for their CEO’s and management to actually make time and visit the hands that are making their goods. Worth enough money to ensure that no human is working in these unsafe and inhumane conditions, yet alone a 13-year-old child. Worth enough money to make a change.

You cannot exploit women in one country to empower them in another. It shouldn’t work like that. That’s not empowerment. That’s not freedom, or love, or anything positive in fact.

But we’re greedy, right? And at least they’ve got jobs, right?

Yeah in deathly conditions. You know in the UK when it hits over 25 degrees, and everyone starts banging on about ‘safe working conditions’ and workers’ rights in that godforsaken heat? Well imagine that, plus another 10 degrees, plus 10-hour working days, plus seeing your family twice a year, plus dirty living conditions, plus gruelling work environments that are unsafe and the air is filled with chemicals, plus very little choice so you’re trapped and taken advantage of. Workers in Cambodia faint daily from the heat, starvation and pure exhaustion. Who do they work for? Suppliers to Nike and Puma. For how much? £120 a month.

And that’s just a snippet of the effect it has on the people of our planet, but the fashion industry is harming our planet in extraordinary ways too.

As the consumers, we are the cause of this. We are the cause of a 500% increase in consumption. Because of us, the consumers, the factory industry is now the world’s biggest plastic polluter, the second biggest energy consumer and the biggest producer of the non-bio gradable material that is polyester. Click here for my last blog to read more about the effects that fashion has on our planet. 

 

What are the solutions?

The solutions are in our hands, and there are so many of them! As a consumer (and human being!), I love to shop, I like my clothes, and I love getting dressed up. And I’m not saying we should stop, that we should boycott and throw tomatoes at the doors of Zara, but we can shop with a conscience, with more care and with more heart. This is easier said than done, when every time you flick on to Instagram you see girls earning big bucks for promoting these labels hard. I get the pressures of society. But think, is it worth it? What’s going to really matter 10 years from now?

  • Repair, re-wear and reuse your clothes

Don’t buy anything with the thought of chucking it away. Buy things that you love and wear them with love, repeatedly. Repair them, learn to sew things up and customise!

  • Engage with and challenge current suppliers

Shop ethically and challenge the fashion industry. If a company doesn’t have transparency regarding their suppliers and production makers, then the likelihood that they either have no idea who is making their clothes or that they’re in unsuitable, unethical conditions is highly likely. Do your research, ask questions and don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right.

  • Stop sending all your old sh*t to charity shops

Use Depop, eBay, car boot sales and sell them on! You’ll make some money and your clothes will go to a new home, instead of a landfill like the ones damaging Haiti. Who’s winning now?!

  • Realise change starts with you

Nazma is now a human rights activist who spends her days fighting for justice, safe working conditions and fair pay for factory workers. We can do the same. Follow ethical brands on Instagram, shop from ethical brands and support these people hard! Move away from the stereotype that ethical fashion is expensive and exclusive. Imagine if every brand was ethical? It would all be affordable and sustainable.

 

In fact, only 1-3% of the final cost goes to the hands that actually made them, so realistically speaking, we just need to shift the money from the hands of the super rich CEO’s and into the hands of these women. This way, costs wouldn’t even go up for us…

The makers of our clothing, those who are so often invisible and marginalised, are worth celebrating and given safety and quality of life too. No-one’s life, and the future of our planet is worth losing over the latest material trends. Let’s call on the UK fashion brands to protect the women who make our clothes and the planet that we live on.

And next time you change your outfit or purchase a new item of clothing, I dare you to look at the label and ask; Who made my clothes? Is she getting paid? Is she safe? Who is she?

Thanks for reading you lovely lot!

Vanisha

X

Follow my twitter and instagram @vanishamay

 

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The Fashion of Feminism

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieWe Should All Be Feminists

 

So, my second blog is all about, guess what? Gender. Not only because it’s one of my favourite subjects to talk about but because Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day. And because I need a distraction from my dissertation which is due in exactly 70 days. Probably not the smartest idea but here we go…

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the commercialisation and the trendiness of ‘girl power’ and what it means to be a feminist in 2017. Feminism is finally cool and trendy, but are we missing the point? Feminism is not about hating men and wearing Topshop t-shirts that say ‘girls bite back’. Feminism is the fight for economic, political, social, cultural equality and for the personal and human rights of women worldwide. It’s equality, and choice, and freedom, and opportunity. Feminism is for the girls that get shamed for being virgins, but at the same time shamed for being sluts. Feminism is for the 700 million women alive today that were married before the age of 18. Feminism is for the estimated 60-100 million women and girls literally ‘missing’ from the planet due to infanticide, sex-selective abortion and fatal neglect. Feminism is for all of us. But have we forgotten this?

 

Which is why I’m struggling with the modernity of it all, and although many of you may be surprised, I’m gonna use Beyoncé as my main example. Beyhive, brace yourselves. I feel that the future of feminism and the real reasons for the importance of it all is becoming tedious and silly thanks to mainstream media and the fashion of being a feminist. Are we commodifying the issues and struggles that affect at least 49.6% of the worlds population? I feel that people are buying into the fad of it, but have no real knowledge of the point of being a feminist, or for those who don’t like the term, for the real fight for equality and lives that depend on it.

 

Andi Zeisler talks about the issues with marketplace feminism and the rise of celebrities jumping on the ‘feminist bandwagon’ in her book “We Were Feminists Once”. Here we have a generation of girls completely lapping up everything to do with ‘girl power’, (and don’t get me wrong, I’m digging most of it) but I’d like to think I’m quite educated on the subject and passionate about the issues surrounding gender inequality. Well hopefully, otherwise these last few years at uni were a waste and I need to re-think my whole future career. The issue that I have is that although it’s all well and good that we can showcase our feminism more, how is it actively and affectively changing our situations?

 

Watching Beyoncé at the O2 arena a few years ago nearly bought a tear to my eye. The words FEMINISM in huge letters behind her while she sings about running the world. Amazing. And thanks to her performances, millions of people of all genders, people like me, felt the empowerment and solidarity that feminism is all about. She’s an incredibly strong, powerful and successful woman. But she’s also a successful businesswoman and brand. And the realisation of singing a song, or singing along to a song could be all that we have to offer feminism in a 21st century was pretty poop. Although it could be a start, it’s not enough for the real struggles girls face around the world. Beyoncé is not alone, along with other celebrities, the same could be said for companies such as Always with their #LikeAGirl campaign and Pantenes’ #ShineStrong campaign, companies that are ‘femvertising’ to the fullest. Here we see the rise of hashtag feminism, likes, shares and “stories told in 140 characters”, but where videos like Pantene promotes the ideas that women are too apologetic, while having ‘swishy, shiny hair’, is this fourth wave of feminism selling the fight for feminism or selling their brands in the name of feminism? As Zeisler says “The important thing is to have a degree of literacy about it” which is something that is missing from mainstream media and those following marketplace feminism.

We have come a long way though. People are finally embracing feminism, and celebrities using their platform to promote equality whether it be women’s right or black rights is not all bad surely?

 

The scandal that could suggest where feminism is going wrong is the Ivy Park scandal that we saw last year. Picture this: Beyoncé and her team of all women dancers, on a stage in front of millions, with a speech by the legendary Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the words feminism in bold, big letters behind her, then on comes ‘Who Run The World?’. Meanwhile, in South Asia, are the women workers who are making Beyoncé’s (who has a net worth estimate of £216million) new clothing line ‘Ivy Park’ for Topshop (a net worth estimate of $6.7billion), for an outrageous 52p per hour in cramped conditions where they have restricted freedoms, curfews at night, no kitchen spaces and share with men. My fangirling for Beyoncé was pretty shattered at this point, and everything she did after this including her infamous ‘Lemonade’ album where she supposedly ‘embraces feminism’ but is aggressive, slates other girls, and talk about how ‘bomb her pussy is’, makes me question what on earth she wants us to celebrate. Is feminism just a platform for her and other celebrities and companies to make money and mess with the movement?

 

I’m not about to delete all my Beyoncé and Taylor Swift songs off my itunes, for the same reason I’m not about to stop using Dove when I shower, because as brands and as music artists, I love them, I can’t fault them there. But as feminists? I think they’ve got a few things very wrong.

 

Issues like this, along with analysing some of the many ‘empowering’ songs that even I have on my ‘girl power’ playlist, are some of the reasons why I’m going to ask myself, and you, to challenge the fad of feminism, to do your research, to question the trend, and to remember the importance of the real issues that girls face in the world, just because they are girls.

 

For the 125 million girls who are out of education, for the girls who are growing up in situations where society tells them “It is more profitable to raise geese than a girl” (Yep, a traditional Chinese saying), for your friends, for your sisters, for your mothers, for yourselves, and for everyone, let’s focus on the importance of equality.

 

For those of you that are interested, here are a bunch of documentaries available on Netflix and online that highlight some of the issues girls face:

  • The Hunting Ground
  • Born into Brothels
  • The True Cost
  • India’s Daughter
  • Finding Home
  • Audrie & Daisy
  • Missrepresentation
  • It’s A Girl
  • The Invisible War
  • Half the Sky

 

International Women’s day is next week, Wednesday 8th March. You can join in at these events:

London – Sunday 5th March, 12pm – March 4 Women by Care International

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/march4women-registration-30692401800?aff=erelexpmlt

London – Wednesday 8th March, 18:00pm – BE Unplugged ‘Disrupting the Future: Passion, Purpose and Change

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/be-unplugged-disrupting-the-future-passion-purpose-and-change-tickets-31879903650

London – Saturday 11th March, 12:30pm – Million Women March and Rally

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/million-women-rise-march-and-rally-tickets-32049705532?aff=erelexpmlt

 

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

 

Thanks for reading guys!

Feedback is appreciated 🙂

xox