We are used to clothing defining us. You only have to pick up most mainstream magazines to be told that the brand, the fabric, the cut of the clothing and how you wear it make an instant impression. Many 'white feminists' see fashion as a feminist issue, learning how to dress like a man to get ahead at work, how to dress for your body type and the effect of the male gaze. The real question is, how is fashion an intersectional feminist issue? Can we break into a different kind of discourse on clothing and restructure the conversation entirely? It turns out, we can.
Unveil the structures of the garment industry and you reveal great injustices, with as little as 1% of the price of your t-shirt going to the worker who made it. Young women, who make up the majority of workers in this industry, are not in it by chance, but because they are less likely to challenge the low wages, poor working conditions and sexual harassment from managers. Dominique from Labour Behind the Label explains that if they fall pregnant, in most cases, their time at the supplier comes to a grinding halt.
In the making of this episode, it was difficult not to see that what we call 'working rights' are not rights, but privileges. The rights we have were not won by the generosity of the top bosses, but by the strength of the unions. Check the "Made in" label at the back of your clothing, and it will tell you the country (but not the factory) that similar struggles are still happening in today. That little, white label, pressed against your neck or your hip all day, maybe even cut out, the only reference to the unknown woman who sewed the seams on the t-shirt for 1% of the cost you bought it. As consumers, we have the power and the influence to change these structures. The advice isn't to stop buying clothes entirely, but to ask the uncomfortable questions of the big brands, and to value the clothes that we do buy for the work that went into them. Dominique goes on to tell us about the launch of a campaign calling for greater transparency in the industry. If brands have nothing to hide them they have nothing to lose by telling consumers where and how the clothes they buy were made.
From appreciation of the labour, to appreciation of the symbolism, cultural appropriation seems to come round every fashion season. Why can't we all wear bindis without any backlash? Why aren't headdresses fun anymore? We're inspired by the culture, it's not stealing, right? If you're asking yourself this, take a moment to look at the history of oppression and colonialism, particularly in South Asia and tribes in North America. When designs are produced by a store for a season, who benefits? Who gets to choose to wear it and then to take it off again when it's no longer the season? This doesn't mean you can't be inspired or appreciate a culture. Just as with the garment industry, it's about asking those tough questions. Do your research, find out if that piece of jewellery is just that or rooted in the fabric of an entire culture. Discover how much of the money goes to the person who made it. Sophie explains that even better than appreciation is cultural exchange. She introduces us to the Native American designers we should be supporting, and puts the onus on us to do our research. Cultural appropriation is everywhere, so it's our role to spot it and stop it.
What happens when a piece of clothing decides your employment? And no, we're not talking about the suit of the season. Ayesha explains the European Court of Justice ruling that allows employers to ban Muslim headscarves, as long as they also ban other religious symbols too. Denying someone the right to wear their headscarf at work would no longer be considered discrimination. Muslim women who wear the headscarf may be denied employment, and as a consequence won't be visible in public, working life. As a Muslim woman who wears the Hijab, and was raised by a single mother, also a visible Muslim woman, Ayesha reflects on the impact a ruling like this can have not only on society, but also on an individual level. Couple this with the recent terrorist attacks and the need for positive representations of Muslim women everywhere, inclusion at work is more important than ever. Unfortunately the policing of women's clothing is nothing new, but where is the public outcry at this ruling?
Ayesha discusses her reasons for wearing the Hijab as a symbol of modesty and righteousness. Not all Muslim women wear headscarves, but for Ayesha, it is an important part of her faith. Listen to Episode 11 to hear more from our three guests as they talk about working conditions in the garment industry, cultural appropriation and the Hijab.
If you like this episode and what we're about, why not come to our live recording of 'Episode 12 : Creating Platforms'? Hear from Consented, Ladybeard and Melanin Millennials, how they created their space, what you can learn from it, and how you can support them. Join us 31st May 2017 in London.