Fashion, a feminine issue

February 9, 2019


The key to social, economic and political growth of any society lies in bolstering female empowerment. Empowerment enables more women to enter leadership positions and broadens the scope for women’s voices to be heard. When women are empowered, their families, communities and even the nation benefits therefore, they are crucial to bringing positive change in the world. For instance, with better opportunities for work, education and business, women raise better families, have more educated children and there is a decline of poverty and disease. Herein lies the basis for societal progress and development. This is why fostering female empowerment is an integral part of Eco Styles.

The fashion industry is powered by approximately 60 million garment workers around the world and 80% of them are women. Majority of these women work in countries like Bangladesh, China, India, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam with unfair wages so low that it keeps them stuck within a cycle of poverty. This is often in addition to being subjected to abuse, social injustices and horrific work conditions.

The collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in April 2013 is considered the deadliest garment factory incident in history where approximately 1,138 garment workers were killed. Approximately 2,500 injured workers had to be rescued alive from the rubble. This incident shocked the world, brought more exposure to this issue and triggered the formation of global Fashion Revolution movement. The movement advocates for the fashion industry to operate in ways that value people, the environment and profit in equal measure.

The fashion and apparel industry make multi-billion dollar profits every year. A report by Deloitte Access Economics for Oxfam for Oxfam’s ‘What She Makes’ document, stated that only 4% of the retail cost of a garment goes to the garment worker of an average retail supply chain. That means for a $10 t-shirt, only 40 cents go to the worker. In countries like Bangladesh where the wages are even lower, the worker gets an average of 2%, which would come to just 20 cents on a $10 t-shirt. The inequality of unfair work compensation that these women experience is staggering. It would be easy for these brands to pay these women a living wage that would alleviate their poverty and enable them to have a decent life. The report goes further to say that even if big companies increased the retail price of clothing to pay workers a living wage, it would only amount to a 10% increase of 10 cents on a $10 t-shirt, making that t-shirt price $10.10.

Oxfam’s What She Makes report also states that from approximately 2013 to 2017, Australia’s fast fashion industry has grown by 21.5%. The revenue of some of these brands have been on the increase while one of them even doubled its profits during this period.

The garment industry has one of the most shocking examples of global inequality. A small number of people accumulate enormous wealth while millions of poverty-stricken workers work hard in long hours. A garment worker for instance will not make in a lifetime what the CEO of a major fast fashion brand makes in one year. Brands are beyond capable of paying workers a living wage. Positive changes need to be executed to ensure that the women who make our clothes are treated with dignity. Beyond the notion that fair, liveable wages are a basic human right, the socioeconomic ramifications are huge. A living wage means workers and their families have enough food to eat and decent housing with sufficient space so that many people are not forced to live in one room. Living wages would also foster the ability to look after children, afford transportation, healthcare and education for themselves and their children. This will ultimately foster societal development.

Reversing this trend of inequality might serve as a benchmark for achieving positive change in other industries. Brands have the responsibility and the power to ensure a fair system and better quality of life for workers. Consumers also have power and agency to ensure that this change happens. Consumers can act in several ways:

1. Join the Fashion Revolution

2. Request fashion supply chain transparency from brands through social media and email.

3. Use ethical fashion apps and guides like Good on You and Baptist World Aid.