garment machinist

How Sexist Is The Fashion Industry?

Ethical Fashion

The events of the past week spanning from International Women’s Day on Monday, the Sarah Everard vigil during the week through to Mother’s Day on Sunday got me thinking about everyday sexism and how the fashion industry is built on sexism and exploitation of women around the globe. Although I was aware of some of it, I found it quite shocking to lay it all out in black and white.

Textile Workers

Around 40-60 million people work in the textile industry of which the majority are women and the vast majority of those that make the worlds clothes are women. These workers earn approximately 18% less than men and rarely move out of entry levels positions whereas male workers rise up to higher positions. They face daily verbal, physical and sexual abuse and harassment at work. The factories deny their maternity leave and childcare rights among many other abuses.The recent killing of Jeysare Kathiravel, a worker in a H&M supplier in Tamil Nadu shows that many of these women even end up dead. In fact 80% of those that died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse were women.

Retail Workers

As the pandemic has sped up the demise of the high street, retail workers have bore the brunt of job losses and 60% of these are women’s jobs. This figure rises in sales and customer services to two thirds as these are often part-time and low paid positions. Women were already disproportionately losing work in retail before this as shown by a loss of 75,000 jobs from 2001-2008 due to the shift to online. Men also lost retail work during this time, but were often taken up into warehouse and delivery roles, so were less impacted.
fashion designer

Designers

Although the vast majority of those going into fashion design are female the top designers are still mostly men. According to Business of Fashion only 40.2% of head designers from international fashion weeks are women.

“Even if certain fashion houses were created by women at their time, today they often have creative leaders that are men”

This is evenly more starkly apparent in the top fashion houses with just 4 female designers heading luxury brands out of the 15 at LVMH (who own the Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Mark Jacobs brands). This may be due to women taking time out to have children at around the age most designers are employed to head up a large brand. This is a problem that is widespread in any industry, as many women are left to do the caring roles while men forge ahead with their careers and can put in long hours. 

Models

Even the apparently glamorous world of modelling is rife with sexism and exploitation. A survey found that 28% of models felt they had to sleep with someone at work to get ahead. Trafficking has been reported along with many reports of sexual assault against agents such as Jean Luc Brunel (notoriously friends with the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein) and photographers like Terry Richardson among many others. The agencies models work for insist on starvation diets and 18 hour working days all while taking a 45% cut of the model’s pay.

Brands

It is no accident that the world’s top 10 richest people are all men and 2 of these are CEOs of large fashion brand’s (hint: I am not suggesting they earned it fairly!). Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company is worth $110 and Armencio Ortega, the co-founder of the Inditex group (who own Zara), is worth $74.2 billion. They have got stinking rich on the backs of all the women’ in their supply chain by paying them slave wages. Men at top brands such as Philip Green at the Arcadia group have also used their position to intimidate, harass and assault women. Unsurprisingly, only 14% of large brands are run by women even though over 85% of the workforce in the industry are female. Added to this is the gender pay gap and the fast fashion brand Missguided is a perfect example of this at a shocking 46%.

fashion shopper

Consumers

Even as consumers we do not escape the rampant sexism in the industry from body shaming, misogynistic advertising campaigns, objectification and gender stereotyping. The damaging impacts of this include a rise in eating disorders and negative body perception to name a few.

So, how can we challenge this endemic culture of sexism? I believe it has to start at the beginning of the supply chain with buying ethical fashion that doesn’t exploit garment workers. Brands who take this seriously (like ours) often are better at looking after their other staff too, such as shop workers, models and designers and it may be no surprise that many are owned and ran by women. Ethical brands have a different culture and mindset to fast fashion and supporting them is the way forward to a more equal and positive industry.

Check out our ethical fashion in our webshop here, read about gender stereotyping here and the toxic fashion image here. Also, just to let you know we have been named as one of the top 15 kids blogs in the UK!

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Resources

The fashion industry needs to break with its gender and women’s rights problems – Fashion Revolution : Fashion Revolution
The glass runway and gender diversity in fashion | McKinsey
How can fashion develop more women leaders? (businessoffashion.com)
Living-Wage-Media-Report_WEB.pdf (oxfam.org.au)
Patriarchal textile industry in Jakarta – ICL-CIT (icl-cit.org)
Female Fashion Designers Are Still in the Minority | Intelligence, VOICES | BoF (businessoffashion.com)
Exploitation or emancipation? Women workers in the garment industry – Fashion Revolution : Fashion Revolution
Women’s Rights In The Fashion Industry – NOT THE NEW BLACK
Why The Fast Fashion Industry is a Feminist Issue | The Green Hub (thegreenhubonline.com)
Why Fast Fashion Is a Feminist Issue – Good On You
The Feminism of Fashion | HuffPost
Fast Fashion Is a Feminist Issue | Teen Vogue
Shop closures and self-checkouts cost tens of thousands of women’s jobs | Money | The Guardian
Thousands are losing their jobs as retailers close – why is there no outcry? | Fran Abrams | Opinion | The Guardian
Yes, the Fashion Industry Can Be Sexist, Too (thecut.com)
The Fashion Debt Trap (tribunemag.co.uk)
Worker at H&M supply factory was killed after months of harassment, claims family | Global development | The Guardian
Trafficking in the name of modelling » STOP THE TRAFFIK
Vogue Model Exposes Financial, Physical & Exploitation in the Fashion Industry – Frost Magazine
The Creepy Truth About the Sexual Harassment of Models – FLARE
Sir Philip Green charged with misdemeanour assault in US – BBC News
Philip Green accused of racial, physical and sexual abuse | Business | The Guardian
Jean-Luc Brunel, French modeling agent, arrested in Jeffrey Epstein investigation – CNN
Mind the Gap: Is the fashion industry doing enough to close the gender pay gap? — Fashion Roundtable
Fashion’s Gender Pay Gap Isn’t Getting Any Smaller | News & Analysis | BoF (businessoffashion.com)

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