A Prime Example of Woke Washing: Fast Fashion and International Women’s Day

Daria Paterek

The concept of companies profiting from social issues is sadly nothing new. Yet fast fashion companies participating in woke washing (particularly for International Women’s Day, despite accusations of modern slavery, female exploitation, and massive gender inequality) is distasteful, hypocritical, and frankly exploitative.

Inauthenticity, hypocrisy, and artificiality are at the forefront of woke washing. Woke washing is a form of performative activism where corporations demonstrate their advocacy for a social cause through their marketing and simultaneously continue to harm the communities they ‘advocate’ for. Woke washing is nothing more than a marketing tactic. It greatly harms the marketing sector since 53% of consumers think brands “trust-wash”, and reduce trust in the industry. It also has adverse effects on social causes, which are further marginalised and turned into profit machines. All in all, this needs to change.

Celebratory slogans and designs mean nothing when your whole brand profits off exploitation

International Women’s Day is a day of celebration. Yet seeing fast fashion brands, known for their exploitative practices, profiting off a day aimed to uplift women and their work, is terrifying. By selling clothes produced predominantly by women of colour paid close to nothing, and marketing these items as ‘feminist’, is an insult to these hardworking women. 

Celebratory slogans and designs mean nothing when your whole brand profits off exploitation. But these inhumane practises aren’t only affecting workers from outside of the UK- these practices continue to occur in the UK. For example, Boohoo was facing an investigation into modern slavery after it came to light that factory workers in Leicester were paid £3.50 an hour.

Seeing an array of fast fashion companies producing ‘feminist’ clothing and celebrating International Women’s Day has made me wonder: is the ‘boss chick’ culture that these companies perpetuate reflect their actual values and workplace? No. 

The Guardian has reported that most women working in fast fashion in Vietnam have been harassed, groped, and even raped

Fast fashion operations actively undermine the causes that they seemingly support. Women make up most of the garment workforce. Out of an estimated 8 million garment workers, 85% are women. Women are often in the lowest-paid positions and risk sexual harassment by superiors.

About two months ago, H&M came under fire. Twenty workers at their supplier’s garment factory in India have spoken out about harassment after their 20-year-old female co-worker was murdered, likely by her superior. The police have claimed there were no complains of sexual harassment from employees; a claim disputed by regional rights groups. Sadly, this isn’t a rare occurrence. The Guardian has reported that most women working in fast fashion in Vietnam have been harassed, groped, and even raped. 

And circumstances are only worsening under Covid. The ONS shows that in the UK, women working in garment factories are four times more likely to die from coronavirus than women in any other occupation, including care. No amount of ‘feminist’ t-shirts can make this horrifying statistic acceptable. 

Woke washing is not limited to International Women’s Day. In 2020, brands were pressured to speak out on social issues, from the pandemic to Black Lives Matter. Companies worldwide have been posting content and statements to gain brand loyalty and attention from customers, and fast fashion companies have joined the trend. Many companies, such as the example of Nike below, took to social media to ‘convince’ their consumers of their support.

Frankie Leach, in her article, sums up the absurdity of fast fashion companies celebrating International Women’s Day: ‘Fast fashion brands are only functioning through the ability to profit off the exploitation of women.’ Yet fast fashion companies do not offer sufficient financial, social or health support to support women. 

We need to do more.

Daria Paterek

Featured image courtesy of  Ken Yee via Flickr No changes made to this image. Image licence found here

In-article images courtesy of @labourbehindthelabel  via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

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