Fashion Revolution’s founders? Female. The CEO of Global Fashion Agenda? Also, female. If you ask me to name the first five sustainable fashion advocates that pop into mind, they would all be female—from celebs like Emma Watson to our favourite sustainable fashion podcasters like Clare Press.
Clearly, women are driving the sustainable fashion movement forward. But why?
Image credit: Copenhagen Fashion Summit
Women consume more, but are not sufficiently represented on the corporate level
One possible reason behind the skewed demographic is that women are more active consumers than men. I recently read an interesting article on why sustainability, not just sustainable fashion, is gendered. It mentions that while the push for gender equality has grown over the years, women still spend more time at home doing the unpaid work of taking care of the household. In a traditional heteronormative household, the man is the breadwinner and the woman takes care of the home including shopping for the necessities like food and clothes. In essence, women do the majority of shopping for the family and come to know more about how their consumer choices can affect the environment and our world.
What's more, a study by Harvard Business School concluded that women in executive roles tend to encourage more corporate social responsibility efforts than their male counterparts. They usually push for causes that hit close to home such as gender equality and the elimination of the glass ceiling in the workplace. BUT if you look at the head of fast fashion brands like H&M, Zara, Forever21, Missguided, and Boohoo, they are all male.
Some studies suggest that only 14 percent of prominent fashion brands are run by women, even though graduates from prestigious fashion design school such as Parsons and the Fashion Institute of Technology are predominantly female.
Do a woman’s position in a traditional household, as well as the lack of female representation in corporate positions, play a role in the fact that the sustainable fashion movement is being led by women who want to witness change in the fashion industry?
"Do a woman’s position in a traditional household, as well as the lack of female representation in corporate positions, play a role in the fact that the sustainable fashion movement is being led by women who want to witness change in the fashion industry?"
Image credit: Fashion Revolution
Women relate to the plight of garment workers
Another hypothesis is that women resonate more emotionally with the oppression of garment workers. One of the reasons why I was drawn to the sustainable fashion movement in the first place was because the struggles of garment workers really touched me.
Of course, although my experience as a woman of privilege is incomparable to the oppression many female garment workers face, it's undeniable that women in developed countries face gender-based oppression, too. With the surge of calls advocating for intersectional feminism, I believe women including myself have begun to understand that to be a true feminist means supporting women regardless of race, class, or country of origin.
Although the term intersectionality was coined by American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, it became a buzzword in the few years leading up to the #MeToo movement. This coincided with the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 which shed light on the labor exploitation of garment workers in sweatshops.
Today, more than 80% of garment workers are women between the ages of 18 and 35. To millennial's and Gens X, Y, and Z, this means that girls in their same generation are facing abuse in another part of the world. It’s difficult to sit back and watch when faced with the reality that girls the same age as you are born into completely different circumstances by mere chance.
Image credit: Fashion Revolution
So, how can we make the sustainable fashion movement more diverse?
While it's important to identify the reasons why there are so many women on board with the idea of sustainable fashion, it’s also important to take a step further and ask ourselves how we can ensure more diversity in the sustainable fashion movement in the future. In short: we need to get men more involved too.
And it's not that the sustainable fashion movement has been actively shunning men up until this point, we simply need to find more ways to get men on board with the idea by bringing them to the table.
Although the answer isn't as easy as replacing all the male CEO's of fast-fashion labels with female leaders, I do believe more female representation in executive roles is a means of furthering sustainability efforts. Because ultimately, female empowerment goes hand in hand with sustainable fashion.
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