By Emily Ball
Feminism continues to increase in its intersectionality, with an increasing awareness that women’s rights cannot be examined without acknowledging the significance of class, sexuality, race and ability. Yet, such activism and advocacy arguably has yet to expand to a non-Western, more global scale, seen in the ever-prevalence of fast fashion. Fast fashion refers to the constant production of short-term trends, seeking to emulate looks seen on the red carpet, catwalks or social media, all whilst keeping the price low. The temporary nature of this cheap model, however, comes at a high environmental and humanitarian cost, namely for the producers in developing nations.
With 80% of garment workers being female, it’s almost undeniable that fast fashion is, in fact, a feminist issue. These workers are underpaid, overworked and subject to unsafe working conditions, with many working upwards of 14 hours a day for a barely liveable wage. The working conditions can be perfectly embodied in the Dhaka garment factory collapse in 2013, in which 1,134 workers died due to a structural failure, whilst working to provide clothing to shops including Primark, Benetton and Bon Marché.
There is a clear sense of irony established when Primark releases graphic tees promoting female empowerment, such as the t-shirt released for international women’s day in 2020, whilst playing its role also in the worst garment-factory disaster in all of history. There is an almost performative nature to the activism they promote, in which aesthetically they preach ‘Girl Power’, but practically, they continue to mistreat female workers.
The solution to this exploitation of predominantly female workers is unclear. The argument that fast fashion creates jobs for garment workers in developing nations is problematic, through deeming the lives of workers as almost disposable and reinforcing an almost saviour complex surrounding Western consumption. However, it isn’t entirely untrue. Clothing retail giant ASOS reported a 253% increase in profits during the pandemic, despite the growing awareness of the damage caused by fast fashion in the media. Moreover, on numerous occasions it has been demonstrated that when the minimum wage of a country producing this fashion is increased, in order to maximise profit, the production is simply moved to a country with even cheaper production costs.
Yet, the discussion has an added dimension, in that people of low income or those who wear sizes inaccessible in ethical fashion or charity shops – two suggested solutions to fast fashion – often rely upon such fast fashion brands in order to clothe themselves. The very nature of a large proportion of the fast fashion industry is its convenience and accessibility, so it would be unfair to blame those reliant on fast fashion for the faults of the system that clothes them.
Image by Jen Theodore