Last weekend was International Women’s Day, this weekend is Mother’s Day - it is a time that we come together and celebrate womankind, all that women do and achieve and an acknowledgment of how far the fairer sex has come. It is also a time to consider just how far we still have to go.
The challenge for female workers in the garment industry is one of the biggest we face and one of those that each and every one of us can do something about. Fashion is often seen as a form of female expression and power – what does it say about what we want to express if we are willing acquiesce to the neglect and exploitation of female garment industry workers for the sake of a worryingly cheap dress from the high street?
In Bangladesh, one of the countries most renowned for the poor conditions of its garment workers (Rana Plaza is just one tragedy that we have all heard so much about), female workers account for 85% of the total garment industry workforce. They remain at the bottom of the supply chain, working long hours at poverty wages usually under the control of male factory owners. These owners are reliant on the hard work of young women to produce the enormous quantities at terrifying rates that the global fast fashion industry requires. As here in the UK we are fighting for equal pay and promotion opportunity, so in Bangladesh and other centres of garment production it is also much harder for women to receive equal pay and promotion – fair wages is a global issue.
A recent study by Better Work a project by the ILO and IFC has shown that whilst a garment job for a woman can be a positive thing (better than domestic or agricultural work) it doesn’t lead to empowerment or equality. In the Vietnamese garment industry women’s average hourly wages are just 85% of men’s.
The solution? The need to campaign for better working environments, living wages and access to independent workers organizations that work in the interest of women rather has never been so great. It is a women’s issue and one that women in the UK need to support. By saying to the big high street brands that we care and that want a fair and transparent garment industry that promotes and empowers the women who make the clothes as well as those who wear them we are setting them a challenge that they can’t ignore.
At Gather&See we offer brands that provide their workers with fair wages, training, education and even childcare. Our brands are small scale and transparent which means that in buying Gather&See piece you are supporting female garment industry workers and their empowerment. We believe it is our duty, as fashion lovers to do our bit but we are also well aware that and it is the big brands and retailers that can really drive change for the millions of workers who are reliant on the fashion industry.
April 24th is Fashion Revolution Day which marks the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy. It is an opportunity to show your support for female garment industry workers world wide - wear your clothes inside out, ask your favourite brands the question “Who made my clothes?” – let them know that we are watching and we are acting for women around the world. So girls, put down your Instagram. Engage, think, prove that fashion and feminism aren’t mutually exclusive and stand hand in hand with women around the world asking for a better deal, for all of us.