At l’amour est bleu, as a female-founded and led fashion brand, March 8th is an important day for us. International Women’s Day (IWD), a day dedicated to recognising the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. While women should certainly be celebrated every day, we are thankful that an awareness day like IWD recognises all the strides women are making in today’s landscape.
Female Empowerment – having or taking more control over all aspects of life as a woman, while acquiring power in society. The term has been used frequently in recent years in political, educational, ecological and social situations. But besides spreading the word of empowerment for marketing purposes, does the fashion industry actually practise what it preaches?
Women in the Fashion Industry Right Now
According to the World Bank data, women comprise around 39% of the workforce across the world and the number has seen an upward trend in the last two decades. Although the total number of workers in the fashion industry is uncertain, it is estimated that the textile, clothing, and footwear sector worldwide employ about 60 million to 75 million people, and three-quarters of them are women.
For such a female-centric industry, the fashion industry is plagued with ethical problems and doesn’t empower the majority of women who work in it. Gender-based inequality remains a problem throughout the industry, from the highest levels of management to the shop floor and the factory floor. Only 12.5% of apparel and retail companies in the Fortune 1000 are led by women. Even in the “higher end” fashion industry, the majority of fashion houses are still helmed by male designers. The lack of female executives is troubling given that women often enter the fashion industry early in their careers.
We also often hear news of women who are marginalised or abused. The evidence of the continued marginalisation of women that occurred in the #MeToo movement in 2017 and 2018 had revealed egregious male behaviour in this world. Many female models themselves have been speaking out about abuse, body shaming, and racism.
In the manufacturing sector, which is often located in developing nations, 80% of the world’s garment workers are women. A lot of these women garment workers are vulnerable and face a host of challenges ranging from low wages and unsafe working conditions to domestic violence. One statistics showed that around 60% of Bangladeshi garment workers have suffered from sexual harassment. An Oxfam 2019 report found that 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers and 1% of Vietnamese garment workers earned a living wage. Because they are not paid enough money to support themselves and their families, their daughters often start working at factories as young as 10 years old.
Photo via Pexels
What Can the Fashion Industry Do to Empower Women?
The fashion industry has the capacity and the responsibility to use its influence to positively impact women. Brands can start by communicating more empowering messages to consumers through editorial content, brand messaging and even models by ensuring women are properly represented, supported, and embraced no matter the size, colour, or background. Moreover, brands must allow customers to connect their purchases with a human face and with the art and process of garment making.
Fashion must also solve the internal problems of injustices and inequalities that remain within the industry itself. The fashion community is filled with talented and independent females but they are underrepresented in leadership positions across the sector. Gender equality and sexual respect should be greater priorities in the workplaces.
Companies must end opportunity discrimination. Women may not always receive the same opportunities as men in equal measure. Leadership teams and the board should have gender balance, which would reduce the rink on the bottom line, ability to grow, and maintain and attract talent. A report from PWC found that among apparel companies in the Fortune 1000, female-led companies are almost twice as profitable as companies with male CEOs. In fact, when a company augments female leadership by 30%, it experiences a 15% boost in profitability, and companies with women in upper-level management have better “innovation intensity”, producing an average of 20% more patents than teams with male leaders.
Education can be one of the best ways to empower young women. According to UNICEF, investing in girls completing the next level of education could lead to lifetime earnings of up to 68% of annual GDP. The fashion industry should seek to tackle these underlying issues limiting access to quality education. It could be done by setting up financial support through apprenticeship programmes to keep girls in school and learn skills that will be able to help themselves.
Things Consumers Can Do to Make a Difference
There are many things you can do to celebrate IWD. Pick up a feminist book, send a flower to women you love. But if you aim to make a difference in the fashion industry, buying something from a female-owned (and led) brand or a brand that ensures fair wages and safe working conditions in their supply chain can be a good place to start.
We can also be part of conversations on social media. Although female empowerment and gender equality are complex, deep-rooted, societal issues will take time. But we can advance the conversations about the evolving role of women in corporate leadership, sexual harassment, and supporting vulnerable women in the supply chain. Social media allows us to communicate with brands and their actions and choices of editors, stylists, photographers, and chief executives to be held accountable.
As consumers, we are a crucial part of the fashion industry, in fact, we fuel its activities. It’s important to educate ourselves about gender inequality issues and use our money on companies that focus on female empowerment.
Our purchasing decisions impact the lives of millions of women from the manufacturer of raw material to female brand owners. Supporting females who push the industry forward by shifting your habits towards more conscious consumption can make a lot of difference, especially during these challenging times.
These women are working to create a more responsible, sustainable and diverse fashion industry. And incredible things can happen when women support each other.