Photo Credit: Charlotte Russe
If you shop at any stores marketed towards teens and young adults, chances are you have seen social justice-inspired merchandise advertising sayings like “We Should All Be Feminists,” “Grl Pwr” or “Feminist (AF)” on the racks. In the past year or so, stores like Charlotte Russe, Forever 21, H&M and many other fast-fashion retailers have begun featuring activism-centered apparel in response to the rise of interest in social justice among young people.
We Should All Be Feminists Graphic Tee from Charlotte Russe, $12.59
Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of fake woke teens fall victim to fast fashion’s exploitation of activist movements. When H&M advertises feminist inspired t-shirts, they’re only looking to profit off of naive white feminists, they have no actual interest in the feminist movement or what it stands for. H&M, a fast-fashion capitalist machine, sells feminism-based apparel that promotes girl power while not even paying their factory workers in Bangladesh (most of which are young women) livable wages, providing safe working conditions or enforcing labor laws.
As a society, Americans have collectively contributed to the take-over of fast fashion in the clothing industry. Retailers are producing mass amounts of clothing at alarming rates to satisfy the public, and as simple supply and demand logic suggest, as availability increases, prices drop.
“If your clothes’ budget has been cut down and you buy bargain dresses, it is only fair you should know who pays part of your bill—the women who made the dress… The red silk bargain dress in the shop window is a danger signal. It is a warning of the return of the sweatshop, a challenge to us all to reinforce the gains we have made in our long and difficult progress toward a civilized industrial order.” —Frances Perkins, 1933
Fast-fashion perpetuates an environment of hazardous working conditions and outrageous labor law violations, a metaphorical monster willing to do whatever it takes, break any rules to make a profit. A product of cutthroat capitalism, fast-fashion encourages retailers to find the cheapest means possible to manufacture their products, which means factory workers suffer at the hand of our society’s demands.
European retailers signed an accord in 2013 that oversees 1,600+ factories, including those used by H&M, following the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory. In a disaster that left over 1,100 factory workers dead (including women and children), the collapse of the Rana Plaza sparked global outrage and put all eyes on the inhumane working conditions of Bangladeshi factory workers. Nearly three years later, about 70 percent of the plans outlined in the accord are still incomplete, leaving factory conditions nearly as bad as they were in 2013.
Any self-proclaimed feminist/activist would advocate against the very tactics fast fashion retailers use to obtain their profits, yet young people are unblinkingly jumping on the social justice bandwagon as if it’s a hot trend no different than boyfriend jeans or crop tops. Retailers selling activist apparel while using unethical manufacturing means are not only exploiting social justice movements, they are trivializing the injustices activists address, making the title “feminist” seem like nothing more than a cute t-shirt idea, invalidating the movement.
Back in April, Pepsi released a commercial of Kendall Jenner appropriating the social justice movement, exploiting the resistance. Just as Pepsi hoped to appeal to young activists with their mock-protest commercial, fast fashion retailers are doing the same, targeting teens who are eager to label themselves as socially conscious. To many teens and young adults, “feminist” or “woke” has become nothing more than a decoration in a twitter bio, a trend, and now, a fashion statement.
Sequined Feminist Mesh Top from Forever 21, $12.90
If you’re an ally, activist or advocate of any kind, looking to support a movement through fashion, buy from businesses that reflect the ethics of the movement. There are plenty of PoC- or Black-owned businesses to buy from; ethically-owned businesses are the wave. Businesses like Green Box Shop (Afro-Latina owned) hand-make their social justice tees, using fair trade cotton shirts; even the profits from select tees go to different charities.
Why Be Racist… Tee from Green Box Shop, $18.99
The fast fashion industry is despicable enough without exploiting the resistance—so invest your dollar in ethical businesses. A fashion statement shouldn’t be the only kind of statement you’re looking to achieve by wearing social justice apparel, instead of wearing a “FEMINIST” shirt to prove you’re a feminist, why not wear a Black Lives Matter shirt from a black-owned business instead to show you’re really down for what feminism stands for? Make a statement that will provoke thought and empower. Buy from brands that reflect the goals of the movement you’re supporting and stop buying activism-inspired apparel from fast-fashion retailers.