Friday, 4 March 2011

Feminist Friday- Is Fast Fashion a Feminist Issue?

So, here is my first attempt at 'Feminist Friday'. I shall have to give the credit for this idea to my friend Sinead, who asked to see something a little more 'serious' on the blog, and suggested I had a look at this article. Apologies if this is not terribly articulate, I am actually feeling a little peaky this evening, but after saying I would do this today I thought it was important to stick to some kind of deadline.

Rosselson in this article (and Naomi Wolf, in this one) is attempting to draw attention to the fact that despite the rise in awareness and production of ethical clothing within the last few years, 'fast fashion' still continues to be the predominant mode of shopping within Western culture. The fact we can now buy a dress for £5 and keep our wardrobe up to date with the latest trends without breaking the bank, is not without its consequences. Women are the primary consumers of this type of clothing, and likewise have a responsibility to the thousands of women who produce these clothes in extremely poor conditions in the sweatshops of the East, such as Bangladesh. This idea of spending is so tied into our Western construction of what makes us 'women' that it can be difficult to see a way forward. But, as Western women with the money in our pockets, it is our responsibility to attempt to withdraw ourselves from this constant cycle of consumerism.

For me personally, this has been an issue that's been bugging me for a while. I do try and buy most of my clothes from charity shops, or from retailers whose prices would indicate a more responsible ethical method of production. However, this has become so ingrained in our high street that even retailers such as Marks and Spencer, who market themselves as a wholesome British brand, are sourcing their clothing from Bangladesh (and as all of you who know my love of M&S, this makes me very sad). I am personally debating whether to give up high street shopping, after also reading this post over at Silence Sweetheart. It also makes me question whether I really want to go into the fashion industry- do I really want to spend my time supporting an industry that perpetuates this constant 'need' for clothing that is being produced by poor women who can't even afford to feed their families? This isn't to even mention the environmental impact that fast fashion has. In a world in which we are so aware of the damage we are doing to the planet, the fact we pump out so many garments, (whose production is often harmful to the environment, such as cotton) that often end up on landfill sites, is frightly shameful. And all of this in the name of looking on trend.

Of course I understand that for many people, myself included, fashion is a way of expressing yourself and can do wonders for self-esteem. But really, in the face of all the problems it creates and people it exploits, how is this in any way important? I am also aware that for many women in Western society it is the fashion industry that provides their jobs, whether that be in publishing, marketing or retail. However, surely there must be a way to provide these women with jobs whilst also providing garment workers with fair levels of pay and labour rights. Whether that be through campaigning, buying from ethical brands or from donating some of those many shoes to your local Oxfam, we have a responsibilty to adress this problem. Only then will we be able to have a 'guilt-free' shopping spree.

Let me know what you thought about today's piece, and whether you like seeing this sort of thing on the blog. I am also open to any suggestions for future columns, although I have got a few ideas floating around in my head to do soon. Hope this has been thought provoking... I'll be back with my staring at my feet shots soon!


  1. This is such a great idea Hattie and I'm really looking forward to more posts from this new feature.

    I think ethical fashion is really important and at this year's London Fashion Week there was a large section promoting ethical designers. The fashion industry is so large and influential I believe it's there right to promote better working standards in the UK and around the world. However, I don't practice buying only ethical clothing because at this moment I don't think it's possible unless you make a massive effort to shop at the appropriate stores and for me personally that isn't my number 1 priority. Fair trade etc isn't something that is going to happen over night, it will take a long time for the majority of fashion companies to promote good ethics but what is important is that they are beginning to do something, even if it is only small. There has been so much about ethics in the bloggosphere at the minute and it seems like a lot more companies are beginning to take steps into improving the working conditions attached with their brand. Hopefully in the next 10 years there will be a massive step forwards in ethical fashion but the process is going to be slow and if more people shop with ethical designers it'll probably speed things up a little. Saying that, I will still be shopping on the high street but also making an effort to incorporate ethical fashion plus my love of ebay and second hand clothes will never cease.

    Must stop now before my comment becomes as long as your post haha

    Bow Dream Nation xx

  2. Great post, I hope you do more of the same thing.
    I wish that UK retailers made their clothes in the UK, there are so many poeple unemployed at the moment. My mum worked in clothing factories for people like Burberry, Laura Ashley and high end lingerie companies but they all closed and set up in India and China. I think it's really hard to enforce ethical and fair workplace conditions in other countries. This is such a tricky subject.
    I would pay more for an item of clothing if it was made in the UK or made ethically in other parts of the world.
    I recently bought an organic cotton/wool mix caridgan from h&m and it was only £15, I would like to see more of this on offer in the high street. I think if people were given a choice they would chose ethical over mass produced

  3. This is a really interesting topic. I agree that we need to address the issues of worker exploitation and waste that are associated with "fast fashion". However it seems that whenever people talk about it the only alternative offered up is only buying from ethical brands, or spending lots of money on a few high-end/designer pieces of clothing, which I think isn't really going to work as a solution.
    We need to raise the standards of work and living and wages of the people who make our clothes. This would lead to more expensive, and consequently *slower* "fast fashion", but with a place still remaining for the high street. I don't think we all necessarily need to totally write off shopping for new trends, but encourage more inexpensive retailers to improve their manufacturing practices. This isn't necessarily going to mean that our clothing is going to cost ridiculous amounts of money again, we'll just have a slightly pricier high street.
    I don't agree with the point Rosselson seems to be making that we should stop spending time on ourselves, such as putting on makeup etc, and instead spend that time striving for the greater good, as if wearing makeup and clothes shopping were some great evil, or that by doing these things you're somehow a less worthy human being because you're selfishly spending time on yourself. I think we can still take pride in our appearance however we want, and if you want to spend ages putting makeup on then fine, and try to tackle global issues such as working practices in textiles factories. It always seems with these issues that it's painted as black or white, the way we are at the moment or a completely different lifestyle, when in fact compromise is more than possible. I think these articles that preach "thou shalt change thy selfish self-obsessed ways" just scare people away from trying to make change happen.
    Sorry, that was a ramble and i'm not sure it all makes sense, but hopefully you get my point!

  4. Really interesting post, I did something similar on Friday but yours is a lot more eloquent than mine!

    I think you should definitely keep doing posts like this, you write really well, it's hard thinking of good topics though isn't it?!

    I do try to be as ethical as possible but it's genuinely hard not to buy from the high street especially if you have a particular something in mind.


You have no idea how smiley receiving this comment will make me- care to share some ramblings in response?