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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Garbutt

International Women's Day

Updated: Mar 27

Happy(?) International Women's Day


“Whenever you start doubting yourself,” she told the audience, “whenever you feel afraid, just remember. Courage is the root of change - and change is what we’re chemically designed to do. So when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others’ opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. And no more allowing anyone to pigeonhole you into useless categories of sex, race, economic status and religion. Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future. When you go home today, ask yourself what you will change. And then get started.”

(Elizabeth Zott to her Supper at 6 audience in Bonnie Garman’s Lessons in Chemistry)

 

I have a diploma in Fashion Sustainability, and I’m very interested in sustainable approaches by the fashion industry and by fashion consumers. International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity for me share how sustainability for me isn’t just about moves to protect the environment. I take the wider view announced by the United Nations in their 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Most importantly on International Women’s Day, these include goal Number 5: Gender Equality.

 

Shockingly, according to the UN, the world is not on track to meet its target of gender equality by 2030. Globally, factory-based garment work is carried out by women. Issues can include the absence of a living wage, unsanitary and unsafe working conditions, lack of career progression opportunities, risk of sexual harassment (Vogue). Calculations published by the UN indicated that based on current rates of progress, it will take a further ‘140 years to achieve equal representation in leadership in the workplace’ and ‘286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws’. On the current trajectory, the UN stated it will take 300 years to end child marriage, and nearly half of married women globally ‘lack decision-making power over their sexual and reproductive health and rights’ (United Nations). But are the domestic and living conditions of its female factory workers in particular beyond the remit of fashion brands? In a global industry that relies heavily on women and girls for low-paid work in developing countries, I would suggest that more can and should be done by the companies who rely on them as part of their fashion value chain. A huge global industry such as the fashion industry should be concerned about the physical, mental and legal wellbeing of the women central to its economic viability.


As more fashion brands publicise information about their approach to sustainability – in terms of environmental impact – we also need to see greater transparency in relation to the impact on people including gender equality. One of the UK-based brands I buy from is women’s clothing brand This Is Unfolded. In addition to their sustainability-conscious manufacture-on-demand model, they work towards gender equality through the involvement in designing, testing and modelling each collection by ordinary women consumers. The on-demand model as well as being less wasteful has economic benefits, meaning higher wages for their factory workers in India (This is Unfolded website). Their factory is also a member of the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange, reflecting a more ethical approach to pay and working conditions. I also use the Good On You app to see how brands are rated according to their impact on environment, animals and people. Companies are rated from ‘we avoid’ to the 5-star ‘great’. On the app, we can read that brands like Armedangels are members of the Fair Wear Foundation which ensures living wages are paid to workers in the supply chain. Sustainable brand Etiko has been given the ‘great’ rating for people, planet and animals owing to its compliance with the International Labour Organisation’s Four Fundamental Freedoms, such as the elimination of child labour and employment discrimination. Meanwhile, companies such as the popular Shein is rated ‘we avoid’ for its lack transparency around workers’ conditions and pay; there is no evidence that it supports diversity and inclusion; and during the pandemic adequate safeguards to protect workers were never disclosed (Good on You).


The lack of gender equality in the fashion industry isn’t restricted to factory workers. Whilst there are fashion houses with women CEOs - Dior, Victoria’s Secret and H&M for example - there is a preponderance of male bosses in the female-clothing industry, as even a quick Google along with lines of ‘top fashion CEOs in the world’ reveals. If you want to support women in the industry and women-led businesses, a great way is to support small businesses. Find these through your local directories, on social media and Etsy.

 

In my work as a colour consultant and stylist, my brand values are empathy, diversity and sustainability. They feature as part of my logo, as they are central to all I do. My colour consultancy and styling services provide a safe space for all genders. So, although I will reiterate here that gender equality includes non-binary and that trans women are women, another blog will explore gender-neutral clothing brands, gender-neutral dressing and other issues around gendered clothing and societal expectations.

 

If you’re reading this metaphorically hot off the press on International Women’s Day, you may be forgiven for feeling depressed and perhaps a little disempowered. You may feel change is way out of your own hands. I’d like to suggest the opposite: knowledge and our ability to do our own research, to consume fashion according to our own values and priorities (whether these are the same as mine or not) is empowering. So, let’s follow Elizabeth Zott’s rallying cry to her women audience quoted at the top, and ask ourselves what we will change. And then get started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment


Gail Hanlon
Gail Hanlon
Mar 09

Very interesting post. I consciously avoid fast fashion and any retailers with dubious ethics and credentials. I also buy more from charity shops than I used to. I'm keen to support small businesses run by women whenever I can. I'd say nearly all my jewellery comes from Etsy.

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