Last weeks Fashion Roundtable webinar delved into an OP-ED article by Author and Journalist Tansy Hoskins - ‘Why people in Primark are not your enemy.’ Undoubtedly, many businesses have shown their "true colours" over the lockdown period, but arguably none more so than the fast-fashion industry. It has become starkly apparent that the fast-fashion business model is morally questionable at best, particularly when it comes to their supply chain transparency. From cancelling large orders to prolonging payments to factories, garment workers have gone unpaid for months, leading to more entrenched poverty and hunger in an already problematic industry.
The fashion movement for change has worked hard to hold such companies accountable for harmful practices within their supply chain with a global #PayUp campaign. The campaign aimed to oust this kind of fast-fashion giant publicly, pressuring them to pay what garment workers are owed. Yet, here we are in the UK, pointing the finger at those who decided to queue up outside the fast-fashion giant and angrier at them then at Primark who have been systematically exploiting people. Why?
Tansey Hoskins wanted to unpick the reasons for this behaviour, looking at it from a class perspective. Overall, it can be argued that the fashion movement for change has decent class-consciousness. We understand the difference between a factory worker and a factory boss and a billionaire owner. But this class analysis seemingly fails to come into the national picture when considering the class issues that are systemic within the UK fashion industry. As a result, people assume everyone has the same choice with consumption being an equal playing field.
From the outside perspective, Hoskins goes on to say "I’ve often felt like I’m at a pantomime where everyone is pointing at the 16-year-olds shopping in Primark and blaming them, but your screaming, ‘its’ behind you!’" towards the deregulated systems with its billionaires and big corporations being the actual problem’.
Joining the panel this week was contributions from blogger Mayisha Begum from Oh So Ethical. Mayisha cited a lack of education and awareness as critical issues. Indeed, the general public may not necessarily understand the power structures and class issues that permeate the fast-fashion industry. This makes it difficult to point the finger in the right direction and ultimately results in placing the blame on the working-class for not purchasing more ethical and sustainable clothing (that is typically quite pricey).
‘We're not going to consume ourselves into justice ethically.’
Faced with these problems, we need collective action when changing the fashion system, and this means we need the movement to be more inclusive. Not just in race and gender, but with class too. Stop placing blame on those who cannot afford the fairer fashion items, get them involved by focusing on calling out corporate impunity. This makes people feel more involved and engaged, which is more effective because at the end of the day we're changing the world not changing your wardrobe.
Adding to the discussions of class and consumption choices where Owen Espley from War on Want talks with great insight into the economic terms of our influence on consumption vs. living wage and how much anyone who works for a living, they'll produce the value of what they produce will be bigger than the salary that they take home and the reason why neoliberalism wants us to focus on consumption and intends to present where you consume all your consumption choices where you have power, is because it precisely takes the attention away from the power that we have as producers. Espley quotes "I think the reason for this is because it also takes the distinction away, and it takes the attention away from the power that Lawmakers and economic lawmakers have to determine it."
Rena Niamh Smith, Founder and Host of podcast Future Heist talks about the how the fashion industry is incredibly hierarchical with class from formations of clubs being formed when your the trendy person buying into each season to the exploration of people being exploited.
We see big companies exploit weaknesses. Currently, in Leicester, sweatshops are deliberately employing people who don't have a lot of stable social status and social capital. Here we are talking mainly of women and immigrants. They’re able to impose these Victorian standards even in the UK because these people have minimal rights and this is happening on a global scale which is a deliberate reason to why they produce in countries like Bangladesh because they can get away with it.
My key takeaway from this powerful webinar was that we're not going to change the system through consumption. We need to stop talking about the consumption and focus on what are you doing to speak out about what is happening. As Begum says ‘We're not going to consume ourselves into justice ethically.’
If you’d like to watch the Webinar in full, please click HERE.
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