By Sica Schmitz
Founder of Bead & Reel, frequent speaker, writer, and sustainable stylist.
Injecting feminist values into fashion is not just about debating a woman’s right to choose to wear a hijab or mini skirt (although those are important issues), it’s also a powerful tool to help better the lives of other women around the world through economic and personal empowerment. As the founder of Bead & Reel and creator of Impact Fashion Show I daily see the impact that fashion can have on both the women wearing it and the women making it, allowing opportunities for education, financial growth, and self love, all through the seemingly simple choice of what we wear. By using fashion to express both our personal stories and the stories of women across the globe, we are able to better raise up females everywhere.
SHOP WOMAN-OWNED BUSINESSES
If you want to support women, one of the best ways is to support women! Right now, of the apparel companies in the Fortune 500, 0 have female CEOs. You read that correctly – not a single one. And while many smaller clothing companies are led by women, they are not always getting the support they need either. In the past 6 months, 2 of the 30 female-founded brands I worked with through Bead & Reel have gone out of business, which not only lessens the amount of women’s voices in fashion but it also discourages others from trying as well. If we want to see more female CEOs in both large and small companies we need to make it possible for them to succeed by supporting their efforts with our purchases. Shopping at women-owned stores and buying from female designers, is an essential part of closing this gap and encouraging the next generation of women bosses to join – and flourish – in the fashion industry.
SHOP FAIR WAGES
Women around the world share certain priorities and high among these values is a desire to improve the quality of life for their families. In fact, women typically invest 90% of their earnings back into the health, nutrition, and education of their families, benefiting not only their children but also their communities. That’s the good news. The bad news is that of the 40 million garment factory workers in the world, over 70% of them are women (and as high as 90% in some countries) and many are living below the poverty line. In Bangladesh alone, 85% of the 4 million factory workers are women earning less than $3 per day and often working in unsafe or deadly conditions. By shopping fair trade, Made in America, or artisan brands, you are ensuring that this predominantly female industry is paid fairly and treated with respect and dignity – a battle most of us women can relate to, and a battle all feminists can get behind.
Women have a long history of objectification and exploitation of our bodies, one which still continues to this day in various forms around the world. As women, choosing not to use others’ bodies is a powerful extension of the respect and boundaries we want for ourselves. All forms of animal products used in fashion (wool, leather, silk, down, and cashmere, to name a few) are taken forcibly and often lethally from the animals they belong to. Using another body against its will goes against everything feminism stands for, so by shopping vegan alternatives we are able to honor other bodies while also honoring our own personal style.
There is a horribly outdated misconception floating around the fashion industry that “black faces don’t sell magazines.” It’s why you see such predominantly thin, young, white women on runways, in the newsstands, and in marketing – these are the qualities that are thought to sell stuff, and, the $1,200,000,000,000 annual global revenue of the fashion industry says that it’s working. In my own shop, I have found this to be sadly true – my original models of varying size and skin tones never sold nearly as well as did the photos when I transitioned to more traditional fashion models. Shopping like a feminist means becoming a discerning buyer, choosing to see beauty in varying body types, sizes, and colors and to support companies and campaigns that dare to be different.
WEAR WHAT YOU LOVE
So far we’ve talked about how to support other women through feminist shopping, but how do you support yourself? Shopping like a feminist means wearing whatever you want. Throughout my previous career in costume design for film and television, I saw countless times the power that costumes had to impact someone’s mood, manners, and self esteem, and I realized that we have the same power to choose how our clothing makes us feel every day. If you love it, if it’s comfortable, if it makes you feel beautiful, regardless of what fashion rules or fashion mags tell you, please, wear it, proudly. Don’t be confined by body types or seasons or trends, because no matter what you wear it will not make you any more or less lovable, intelligent, creative, kind, or smart, so choose to wear what makes you happy, and support other women in doing the same.
USE YOUR POWER FOR GOOD
We may make up only about half the population but women control up to 80% of fashion purchasing power. Basically, we’re in charge (cool, right?), but with great power comes great responsibility. If you don’t like how a corporation is treating its female employees, you can choose not to buy their products. If you want to see more female CEOs, you can support the ones who do exist, allowing them to thrive and inspire more women entrepreneurs in their wake. If you want to see women garment workers and their children have access to education and health care, you can shop with the brands that pay transparent, living wages. If women decide not to give their hard-earned money to businesses that don’t share their ethics, those businesses will be forced to change. Basically, we women have so much power, so, don’t forget to use it next time you go shopping.
Also read: WHY DO WOMEN TAKE CHARGE IN TIMES OF CRISIS?