Fast fashion operates on a business model that seeks to maximize profits by producing very large quantities of products, often imitating luxury trends, and selling them at low prices. However, much of the supply chain of Western fashion are controlled variables, meaning the prices are set. The cost of the raw materials, like cotton, are set, just like the prices of transportation are. The only place in the supply chain that is not controlled is the labor, 80% of which is by women.
Fast fashion companies are able to pressure their labor forces, because they offshore it, meaning they transfer production to countries where the minimum wage is lowest and working conditions are not secure. Today, it is the workers, and mainly women, who pay the price.
Did you know that 80% of the workers who make our clothes are women between 18 and 24 years old? They will make the same amount of money in their lifetime that a fashion CEO makes in 4 days.
The reason women choose to work in the garment industry is often because it offers them financial independence, as it is the most stable and respectable option for those who do not have many opportunities. The problem is that they are paid so little that their basic needs are often not covered.
In some countries like Bangladesh, the government determines a minimum wage, which is very different from a living wage. This wage is simply not enough to guarantee them a decent life, and even more so when they have to support their families. In this area of the world, most women are not paid for overtime work, sickness or maternity leave. It is common for them to be fired if they are found to be pregnant.
Not only that, but one in three women (according to CARE International) have been sexually harassed in the workplace. In addition, 60% of the women surveyed reported being discriminated against because of their gender. More than 15% said they had been threatened and 5% had been hit while working. Originally, male supervisors, who mistreat them, threaten them, force them to stay long hours (which are not necessarily paid).
When you buy a t-shirt that is labelled “feminist”, make sure you know who you are supporting. Workers in this industry are said to earn only 3% of the final sale price. If you are a feminist, don’t fall into the trap of Girlwashing.
As consumers of western fashion, we are also responsible for this abuse. Our ignorance around what global supply chains really look like should not allow us to be culpable. Informing ourselves as consumers is the responsible thing to do, and using our money to support systems of production that we believe in should be how we choose to act.
Our curation Chez SANNA emphasises supporting women from around the world. Our brands Mama Tierra and Indego Africa are specifically working with women’s empowerment, and by selling their traditional works, they gain financial independence in a fair and honorable way. Discover their collections here.