"Cheap fashion almost always means the exploitation of women" – dariadaria
Activist and influencer dariadaria stands up for fair fashion, sustainability, emancipation and girl power for years. Read her column to find out why fashion and feminism go hand in hand and how all of us can improve fashion industry for women.
Often, I am asked this question:
"Previously, you were interested in fashion and today it is feminism. How do they fit together?"
Then, I explain, over and over again, that fashion is a feminine matter. Foremost, it is a cliché that feminists do not care about so-called “superficial” matters like fashion and, moreover, the context is far more profound. Not only are women in the majority when it comes to buying clothes, they also lead in the manufacturing of textiles. In China, 70% of the textile workers are women, in Bangladesh 85% and in Cambodia even 90% of the women dominate the clothing industry. A great number of these women work for companies that have turnovers going in the billions making them the most profitable in the world, yet the women employed earn only a fraction of the wages they would actually be entitled to receive.
In Bangladesh, the second largest exporter of clothing, the minimum wage per month since December 2018 has been at 95 Euro. Unfortunately, the unions gained nothing to celebrate about, for their demand had been 190 Euro - twice as much as was ultimately decided. The current minimum wage in this country is far from securing a good livelihood for a woman, let alone giving her the priority of health, safety and education. The reality is such that working between 60 and 140 hours overtime per week are normal for textile workers in the Global South.
Our demand makes it possible
In the Global North, big textile chains sell T-shirts with the inscription "Feminism" or "The Future Is Female". Many of these T-shirts are sewn by women who do not benefit from feminism, as we live it. Maternity protection, trade union rights, fair pay - all these rights we women in Central Europe claim for us, but we do not consider these same rights for the seamstresses of our clothes, as we deprive them of these rights during that moment whenever we buy a 5 Euro T-shirt.
In 2013, a textile factory in Bangladesh collapsed, 80% of the persons killed were women and children. On that April 24, 2013, 3000 children lost at least one parent, for many it was the mother. The women were mothers, daughters, sisters, and female colleagues, who had produced cheap clothes for us in the Global North. Women, mostly between the ages of 18 to 20 years, who had been sewing for 22 cents an hour, on account of poverty having forced them to do work at such a price, and due to our demand of making it possible.
The "bargain" we have made might seem to be a monetary gain, but considering the humanitarian side, it is a huge loss. Were such a tragedy happen to us, we would be devastated, we would go out into the streets and demonstrate. We would sign petitions, wear our "Feminism" T-shirts while expressing our pain over this injustice. That is why feminism must not be contained within the borders of Europe.
Cheap fast fashion = exploitation of women
Fashion and feminism are two topics inter-related with each other:
Cheap fashion almost always means, the exploitation of women. The goal is not equality for the middle class white women of the Global North, but global empowerment for all women.
The counterargument: "But at least we create jobs by buying cheap fashion from Bangladesh” is like saying that at least a woman suffering under domestic violence has a roof over her head.
The essence of it is: Just because one has made a place of work possible for a woman, one has not actually helped her. The fact is that in taking the job, the woman has no other choice but to leave her child in the village with her parents, as her place of work plus the hours of working overtime do not allow her time for maternal care, this woman becomes an unhappy human being. If she also has her health at risk at her place of work, we have not helped her at all. If she does not have an option of saving part of her wages for the hard years, we have not even given her that chance for her future.
This is exactly why feminism and fashion have a lot to do with each other and why it is so important to do business with companies whose core business does not go hand in hand with the exploitation of women. Very fittingly it is said, “Your sales receipt is a ballot" and so it is here: Every 5 Euro T-shirt is a vote against women's substantial rights.
On the other hand, the monetary amount that we spend at a company which supports the rights of women is a contribution we give, as women for women, towards our common struggle for an equal and fairer world.
The Austrian Madeleine Sophie Daria Alizadeh launched her lifestyle blog "dariadaria" in 2010 and quickly became one of the most widely read bloggers in the German-speaking world. Since 2013, she has dedicated herself to sustainable and fair fashion, speaks about mindfulness, a more conscious life and teaches Yoga. Over the years, the Viennese has undergone a change away from the so-called Lifestyle towards socially critical issues.
In her podcast "a mindful mess" she talks about sustainability and feminism. Madeleine also writes a column for "Die Wienerin" and appears throughout Europe as a speaker at innovation conferences, such as the TED Talks. In spring of 2018, she was invited to the European Parliament to also attend the plenary debate on the ban of disposable plastic for the protection of the oceans.
To draw attention to the humanitarian situation of refugees, Alizadeh traveled to Jordan and Iraq. On her Ghana trip, she made a strong case for the sustainable cultivation of palm oil, for which no rainforests have to die anymore. In India, she visited women picking organic cotton in Madhya Pradesh and personally convinced herself how an organically grown cotton plant can be made into a garment. In Patagonia, she saw firsthand what sustainable and fair wool really means. No way is too far for her. Madeleine Alizadeh shoulders responsibility and uses her popularity to inform, inspire and above all to make a difference. In July 2019, she announced her symbolic candidacy for "Die Grünen" at the national elections in Austria.