By Sica Schmitz
Founder of Bead & Reel, frequent speaker, writer, and sustainable stylist.
A Guide to Fashion Activism
Fashion impacts those who make it, those who wear it, and everything it touches in between, So it is a surprisingly powerful tool to create change – or resist it.
While fashion may not be the most commonly acknowledged form of activism, it is the third largest industry, worth an estimated $3 trillion and directly employing 60 million people (and millions more indirectly), making it ripe for impact. It’s something that each of us participates in every single day when we get dressed and is a deeply personal expression of who we are and what values we support.
If you want to support people of color, women, animals, and water rights, here’s how to use your fashion to uplift the most vulnerable among us simply through an active choice to let your style reflect your ideas.
HOW TO SUPPORT PEOPLE OF COLOR
97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. are made overseas, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “Overseas” can mean anywhere outside of America, but countries like China, Bangladesh, and Cambodia are popular choices for their lack of human and environmental regulations – and most of these garment workers are POC.
And even in America, Los Angeles is a major manufacturing hub, employing over 45,000 workers, many of which are immigrants – illegal or otherwise – making them especially vulnerable to wage theft, as the Garment Worker Center reports. Their survey found that these workers earn an average of $5.15 per hour, despite our local $12 legal minimum wage.
If you’re worried about black lives and brown lives – and you should be – then shopping Fair Trade for your fashion is an essential part of supporting and protecting garment workers, both locally and globally.
HOW TO SUPPORT WOMEN’S RIGHTS
Now more than ever we need to support women with our wallets and actions. In the US, women own only 31% of businesses and only 20% of businesses worth over $1 million. And it’s even worse in fashion. In 2015, exactly zero Fortune 500 apparel companies had female CEOs.
Women between the ages of 18 and 35 account for over 80% of global garment workers, many of which are making less than $3 per day. Here in the U.S., fashion industry employees earn an annual wage that is over $15,000 below the average for all other occupations.
So grab your wallets ladies. By shopping our Female Founder collection it puts more money into women’s hands – and money talks. When you invest in women, they typically invest 90% back into the health, nutrition, and education of their families, as opposed to only 30-40% from men. This positively impacts their lives and that of their families but it also ripples into safer and more prosperous communities and economies.
HOW TO SUPPORT ANIMAL ACTIVISM
There are a lot of reasons to choose vegan fashion; it’s more environmentally sustainable, it’s incredibly innovative, and it way nicer to cats and dogs (and other animals, too).
China is the world’s largest leather and fur producer and exporter, even though it lacks animal abuse legislation. With no laws protecting animals and a high demand for animal products, animals such as dogs and cats are often used to create small leather goods – usually without customer knowledge. While this is illegal in the U.S., with mislabeling and without scientific testing there is no way to distinguish which type of animal you are wearing, so not only are vegan alternatives the safest way to guarantee that you know which animals you’re not wearing, but they are also the only ones that don’t harm animals.
The easy solution is to shop our vegan collection (which, by the way, all of our collections are vegan!). Vegan textiles include classic natural fibers such as cotton and linen, modern eco-fabrics like lyocell and modal, and high-quality vegan leathers which are visually indistinguishable from animal leather.
HOW TO SUPPORT WATER RIGHTS
In the wake of the Dakota Access Pipeline memorandum and the crisis in Flint, Michigan, water safety is a major concern that we should all be talking about.
Manufacturing is not only water intensive (it takes 2,700 liters of water to make just one t-shirt, which is the same amount of water an average person drinks over the course of almost 3 years!), but it also accounts for 20% of global water pollution. In major manufacturing areas of China, India, and Bangladesh, the factory runoff is often so pollutive that it has made the waterways and surrounding land unusable – and unlivable.
One of the best ways to keep water safe and clean is to buy fashion that doesn’t need more of it, like our ethical second hand Rescued Collection. This is one of the fastest growing fashion markets, partly due to another issue: over-consumption. Currently, around 80 billion new items of clothing are made and bought each year, which is 5 times more than even just a few decades ago. And where does this fashion go? The average American tosses 82 pounds of textile each year, which adds up to 11 million tons of fashion going to landfills annually.
Shopping pre-loved fashion saves water and other precious resources and gives new life to something that someone, somewhere, worked hard to create.
We are not helpless in the face of injustices. How we choose to spend our money is the strongest vote we cast, and unlike with political elections, it’s a vote we get to cast regularly – every time we go shopping.