The detrimental effect of fast fashion is a feminist issue. The cause of sustainable fashion might not yet play a large role in the feminist world, not merely because influential corporations hide the catastrophes of fast fashion from the media, but also because of the divide in feminism. In more recent years, the tension between intersectional feminism and the feminism of our grandmothers is augmenting.
Somehow, in the turmoil of the rise of third wave feminism, some feminists lost sight of what third wave feminism is all about. The women’s suffrage movement first defined feminism in the 1920s, the goal of second wave feminism was to get women into the work place, and the single word used to describe today’s feminism is “intersectionality.” The Telegraph brilliantly describes intersectional feminism as “the view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity,” essentially meaning that as feminists, we cannot forget people such as women of color and the LGBTQ community as previous feminist waves have done. Today, we see self-described feminists like Taylor Swift that have not yet been taught that feminism needs to be intersectional. For her, feminism is a “squad” of white skinny girls banding together to face the world of romantic heartbreak. It is feminists like these that need to be educated.
Thus, intersectional feminism and ethical clothing are incredibly linked. We cannot truly be members of the third wave of feminism, advocating for the economic equality of women today, if we consistently buy fast fashion. How can we promote economic and social equality if we support, by buying unethical clothing, a colossal industry that exploits women and children? If we neglect this aspect of feminism, we no longer become intersectional because intersectionality inherently investigates the relation between oppression and all types of groups based on everything from gender, to race, to sexuality, to ability, to nationality. By endorsing the poor working conditions of women across the globe, we take a whole step back for feminism.
Here are some tips to being an intersectional feminist in the context of sustainable fashion:
To Thrift or Not to Thrift?
Thrift stores are back in style – a great win for ethical fashion. However, as intersectional feminists, is it ethical to appropriate the lifestyle of low-income women without understanding and recognizing the circumstances that are involved in only being able to afford second-hand clothes? This is a tricky issue, but I think it could be incredibly revolutionary if everyone bought second-hand. With that being said, if we buy from a thrift shop, we can be considerate and mindful of these complications by not posting photos of our new attire on social media, bragging about the clothes we bought, or turning an afternoon at the thrift shop into an “experience” or “adventure.”
Donating Bags of Clothes to “The Poor”
When I was growing up, my mother had my sister and I clean out our closets and put all of our old clothes into huge garbage bags every spring. My mother would then dump the bag in a clothes drive bin on the side of the main street. As I learned from the The True Cost (a must see documentary on Netflix), much of the clothing we donate is shipped to places like Haiti where there are too many articles of clothing for the people in need. When this happens, not only do most of the clothes end up in dumps that over time release toxic chemicals into the earth, but the abundance of clothes also harms local artisans and businesses that sell clothes, thus damaging the economy.
As an alternative, you can pull articles of clothing from your closet as soon as you realize they do not fit. Then you can donate in small bunches to a second-hand store, sell clothing online, or give articles of clothing to friends. You could also organize a clothes swap.
Fair Trade Everything?
It makes sense that if we are attempting to support subordinated women in the fashion industry, we should support them in every aspect of life – from buying fair trade coffee to sustainable furniture. Obviously that is an enormous commitment and although fair trade products are not necessarily more expensive, they are certainty more inconvenient and time consuming to find. Change comes in small steps. By starting with buying sustainable clothes, we can slowly effect the global change necessary to start empowering women in all industries. Fast fashion is not simply a product of incredibly unjust labor, but it helps to normalize cultural concepts such as emphasis on materialism and negative body imagery.
I suggest we start with making fair trade closets and going from there. However, if you feel a need to implement these principals into everyday life, here are a few know products commonly produced by unjust labor:
- Electronic Devices