Following the tragic murder of George Floyd and the outrage it sparked, the world has erupted in Black Lives Matter protests. This has gone beyond issues of police brutality and has sparked a re-evaluation of multiple industries and their relationships with race. Students and employees have bravely opened up about their experiences as Black individuals in the workplace. The world of fashion has faced similar criticisms.
Truth be told, the fashion industry is notoriously racist. It depends on the work of women of colour as they work in textile factories producing garments that appropriate the cultures that were once deemed lower class, transforming them into reproduced objects for white women, with little to no recognition for those who created them. On popular social media platform Tik Tok, @sustainablecherub has an ongoing series entitled “ghetto until white people do it”. She explains how items such as bucket hats, nameplate jewellery, and Grillz were considered “ghetto” by mainstream white culture up until they were worn and made popular by a white person. When this occurs, items are often renamed, deemed trendy and never credited to the Black culture from which they originate. This completely disregards the cultural significance of these objects and continues to keep Black individuals outside of the mainstream industry.
The irony is that many of these items not only originated from women of colour but are produced by them too. Eighty per cent of the 74 million textile workers worldwide are women of colour, many of whom are paid less than twenty pounds a week, whilst the CEOs of fast fashion brands take home millions. The poor working conditions these women endure have only worsened since the outbreak of COVID-19, with millions of Bangladeshi and Cambodian workers remaining unpaid amidst a global pandemic.
The exploitation of women of colour is not a new concept. For centuries, European colonists exploited BIPOC and extracted their resources. This colonial legacy laid the foundations for fast fashion to survive, providing Westerners with cheap clothes and high-profit margins while atrocities occur thousands of miles away.
As we find ourselves amid the civil rights movement of our generation, we must support all women of colour. Yes, women of colour must be represented on Billboards, in boardrooms, and credited for their designs. However, we cannot forget about the millions of garment workers who deserve our support. Lower-income women are just as worthy as those with higher wages. Not only should you support Black-owned brands, and companies who have pledged to hire and promote more women of colour, but also those who are transparent about their business practices. It is we as consumers that have the power to put our money towards brands that align with our beliefs, forcing fast-fashion billionaires to pay the textile workers they so depend on.