Fashion, Lookbook

Feminist clothing brands should fight the patriarchy and practice ethical fashion standards

Feminists have an obligation to fight against mass exploitation

A few years ago, on Instagram, I saw a T-shirt with the slogan “the future is female” printed across. Eventually, I found the famous shirt in a chain clothing store here in South Africa. The shirt didn’t even fit me properly. But I was so excited to join the trend that I bought it anyway.

Feminism in fashion has, in many ways, made feminism trendy.

This brings feminism into public social spaces while raising greater awareness of the movement. This shift in fashion has also allowed women to publicly celebrate and embrace their feminism. Being able to wear a shirt with the word “sisterhood” printed on it makes me feel like I am a part of something. Every time I see another woman wearing a feminist shirt I want to introduce myself. Feminism in fashion makes the movement more social and mainstream.

Many of the brands behind the clothes have been criticized for using feminism for commercial gain without understanding the movement. Often this is true. It is unfortunate that retailers are capitalizing on feminist clothing without contributing or even attempting to recognize the movement’s importance. But if using feminist clothing for commercial gain brings women closer together and spreads awareness of the movement, I’ll accept it.

What I won’t accept is exploiting workers and the planet in the name of feminism.

Cheap clothing is mass-produced in response to the latest trends, also known as fast fashion, and is often characterized by mass exploitation. Many of the retailers behind the mass-produced feminist clothing contribute significantly to the fast fashion industry.

According to Labour Behind The Label, approximately 80% of garment workers are women. The women who uphold the fast fashion industry live in poverty, are overworked and generally do not earn enough to cover the basics of living such as food, rent, and medical bills.

As feminists, we have an obligation to fight against mass exploitation. Supporting the fast fashion industry contributes to the oppression of women, men, and children from marginalized communities. Western feminism is often quick to acknowledge the oppression around us while ignoring our purchasing power further afield. Choosing to buy from local businesses, thrift stores or shops that source ethical labor are all ways we can fight the fast fashion industry.

If the feminist clothing trend also makes you feel more connected to the movement, here are four clothing brands that fully reflect our feminist values.

1. Otherwild

Two smiling women wearing black T-shirts that read "the future is female ejaculation"
[Image description: two smiling women wearing black T-shirts that read “the future is female ejaculation”]. Via Otherwild on Facebook.

Run by feminist and activist Rachel Berks, Otherwild is committed to running an ethical model that provides sustained support to its staff, suppliers, vendors as well as numerous social justice and healthcare organizations. For example, 25% of the proceeds from Otherwild’s sweatshirts go to Planned Parenthood.

2. Femininitees

Two women looking at their cellphones wearing white T-shirts with censor tape over their boobs.
[Image description: two women looking at their cellphones wearing white T-shirts with censor tape over their boobs]. Via Femininitees on Facebook.

Femininitees creates T-shirts with specialized messages that bring attention to gender inequalities. The messages on these shirts are hand embroidered by two women in Brooklyn. Femininitees also donates a portion of their proceeds from each purchase to the National Organization for Women.

3. The Outrage

A smiling woman wearing a hoodie that has the words "thoughts & prayers" crossed out and the words "policy & change" written beneath.
[Image description: a smiling woman wearing a hoodie that has the words “thoughts & prayers” crossed out and the words “policy & change” written beneath]. Via The Outrage on Facebook.

This feminist clothing company is on a mission to raise $1 million to progressive organizations fighting for social change. With every purchase, The Outrage donates to numerous organizations including Capital Pride Alliance, Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, and 500 Women Scientists.

4. Birdsong

Two women wearing white T-shirts. One shirt has the words "no borders" embroidered in blue and the other shirt has the words "still I rise" embroidered in red.
[Image description: two women wearing white T-shirts. One shirt has the words “no borders” embroidered in blue and the other shirt has the words “still I rise” embroidered in red]. Via Birdsong London on Facebook.

Birdsong promises no sweatshop and no photoshop. These ethically-made organic cotton tees are produced in the UK and work with women’s groups and charities to ensure that all employees are supported and receive a living wage.

As feminists, we should be trying to move away from the fast fashion industry when shopping for clothes. While our capitalist society built around consumerism makes this hard, we can still make small changes by choosing to buy from ethical businesses.