THE BLOG

Call Yourself A Feminist? Let Your Wardrobe Do The Marching

18/01/2017 16:01 GMT | Updated 19/01/2017 08:26 GMT

Why this feminist won't be joining the Women's March.

On 21 January, hundreds of thousands of women will join together for the Women's March on Washington and its sister marches across the world to demonstrate for women's rights.

Most sensible people are feminist, whether they would specifically call themselves that or not. And many of them will take part in the Women's March.

But it is precisely because I am a feminist that I won't be joining. Marches only come round once in a while.

But what we do every day is buy things. And with that come opportunities through which, to my mind, we can have more far-reaching impacts than a march.

Take fashion. In the UK, the fashion industry contributes around a quarter to economic growth, the single biggest sector. Fashion is particularly relevant for women's rights, with around two-thirds of garment workers female, millions of them in countries where their rights aren't adequately protected. Do these women need our marches, or do they need us to exert pressure on companies to work harder to ensure they are safe, treated fairly and paid a living wage?

Marches only come round once in a while. But we have opportunities every day to ask questions and make an impact on what businesses we want to succeed and therefore what values we support.

An excellent presentation by the Fair Wear Foundation this week at Berlin Fashion Week highlighted how, as a typical family of garment workers in India, it can be close to impossible to support two daughters through education while also meeting the basic needs of the family on two parents' wages.

So you know who won't be marching? These parents and their daughters. They'll be busy sewing the zipper on your £25 skinny jeans, then possibly continuing to do that for 14 hours without a toilet break.

It is depressing that we are seemingly unfazed even by things like child labour. You know what happened in the weeks after BBC Panorama published a report on Syrian refugee children as young as eight years old being employed by Turkish garment factories, supplying British high street giant M&S and others? M&S reported an unexpected increase in clothing sales. Its management quoted 'better prices' as one factor for its success.

It is by no means only cheaper brands that have inadequate control over their supply chain being fully ethical. In fact Fashion Revolution's latest Transparency report finds that some of the most coveted global luxury brands cannot trace all their inputs to source and do not publish lists of countries in which they produce.

That said, we must be aware that customers' demand for ever lower prices are a major driver of at least unreasonable, at worst highly dangerous conditions for garment workers. As Lucy Siegle, one of the most accomplished writers about ethical fashion, once remarked: 'Fast Fashion isn't free. Someone, somewhere is paying.' More often than not, that 'someone' is a woman.

What is especially frustrating is that it is easy to be a more responsible fashion consumer. No longer is ethical fashion about spending all your time on research, or buying nothing, making major style sacrifices or spending a month's salary on handknitted alpaca sweaters.

This is 2017, and there are countless brilliant fashion labels and an increasing number of retailers (Gather& See, The Acey, as well as the company I started, Sheer Apparel, only a few examples. There is even one for menswear.) bringing ethically and sustainably produced gorgeous clothing to market. Each has their individual take on what 'sustainable fashion' means to them, but a focus on fair treatment of garment workers is a common denominator.

Yes, women's rights are human rights. And with so many women across the world affected, for better or worse, by our consumption habits, it's time we did a little less marching and let the way we spend our money reflect our values.