This past week, we have seen a lot of blog posts and social media activity surrounding International Women’s Day (IWD).
Some blogs have suggested lists of brands that contribute to feminist causes. Examples of companies that make t-shirts and give the proceeds to charitable organizations make us feel passionate about empowering and supporting women all over the world.
Regardless of the slogans on our t-shirts and how the money we pay for our clothing is distributed by brands after-the-fact, there is also the idea that fashion is a tool of empowerment itself. One article drew on a past exhibit at the Design Museum called Women Fashion Power. This exhibit highlighted how a variety of women, from CEOs to models, have “used fashion to define and enhance their position in the world”. The story of fashion in this exhibit demonstrates that it is a tool of self expression and empowerment for women. This is used to assert authority and often build a reputation.
This discussion comes at a time when the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements have demonstrated that women have been undermined and silenced. It is interesting to consider that the same outlet some women would name as their tool of empowerment may actually be an outlet that other women name as their demise in the cases of sexual victimization. How a woman chooses to dress can apparently not only impact the way she feels, but how others perceive her and treat her.
The way fashion can empower women is a curious case that has many contradictions. If we consider fashion as an art form that is up to subjective interpretation based on the person who engages with the materials, then perhaps fashion has more power to inspire and empower women than one would think. It may be hard to see the value in the industry when fast fashion has depreciated the impact of what would be timeless, classic pieces or unique, couture garments.
An underlying question in relation to how clothing can empower women is to ask: “who made my clothes?” When we consider the women who are behind the garments we wear, can we really feel empowered wearing a feminist t-shirt they made without knowing how they were treated? Fashion Revolution is a movement that has been asking this question for a long time and asking the fashion industry for “greater transparency, sustainability and ethics”. We need companies to tell us more about the policies they have in place to protect female workers. We argue that only then can one feel truly empowered by wearing garments from a brand that values transparency and honestly depicts the conditions in place for their workers.
We loved the social media memes floating around on IWD that prompted users to think about the contradiction when brands have feminist marketing, yet their workers lack essential rights, such as maternity rights.
So, before you jump on the bandwagon for any sort of event meant to empower women, think about who is supposed to be empowered in the process and how companies can do a better job of informing you before you commit to the cause!