We need to talk about the importance of feminism in our environmental struggle. I think it’s important that we recognise the importance that the empowerment of women plays in tackling our environmentally unfriendly habits.
The best place to start this conversation from is fast fashion. Our patriarchal system has targeted 51% of its population by creating vast markets feeding off from the insecurities they create through advertisements. It is a vicious cycle. Big corporations owned by white men have embedded ideas of necessity through minimising women’s self-esteem leading to the flourishing and fast-growing development of one of our biggest carbon-emitters: fast fashion corporations. Inditex Group (Zara’s parent company) is the highest fast fashion brand and carbon emitter 508,012 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (Statista). Let that sink in. Advertisements intentionally target women because women represent the heavy majority of consumers. We are, essentially, fed certain trends and we are constantly re-wired that we are supposed to look a certain way. And for what? I think the biggest way that these subconscious and heavily integrated patterns have shown is through our consumerism still rising regardless of the fact that we have absolutely nowhere to get to because we are confined in our homes. Yet, brands like Pretty Little Thing, Shein, H&M, Zara, they have all found a way to continue their online sales by promoting sections called “lounge-wear,” “comfortable clothes.” We joke about it online, posting our shopping saying “but I don’t have anywhere to go to.” But it is not ironic, it is the most evident pattern we have adopted and I think this is important. The way that feminism is so heavily related to environmentalism is that the moment we slowly start to realise that this isn’t normal, that we don’t need to change our wardrobes every few weeks or months or seasons, that is when we realise how we can feel empowered through non-consumerist “rituals.”
Another issue that shows the heavy interconnection between fast fashion and feminism is the fact that almost 80% of employees who are heavily underpaid, in smaller states with lower minimum wages (which big corporations heavily exploit) are women of colour. How can we claim to fight against societal injustices if our most basic habits – i.e. shopping – perpetuate the opposite? And how can we claim to be fighting against such social injustices if we do not make the essential connection that our environmentally detrimental habits perpetuate this behaviour? What I am trying to get at is that there are no boxes of feminism, anti-racism, environmentalism etc. Everything is so heavily connected that we cannot ignore one when we are trying to fight for the other.
But how do we break off this cycle? Just 31% (Ipsos MORI) of people in the UK in 2018 considered switching to environmentally friendly alternatives. Of which, less than 50% were women. Between the ages of 24 and 33, 16% of men prefer environmentally friendly and more ethical brands, as opposed to 7% of women in the UK in 2020 (YouGov). This is because few alternatives to our fast-fashion dominated consumerist practices are actually available to us. More is available to men when they try to minimise their closets because nobody would notice that they were wearing the same shirt every few days. Or at least men don’t worry about that, but us as women, we are a different deal. We have been convinced that someone will notice what we are wearing. We are even set against each other through comments such as “ah she doesn’t have the greatest taste in clothes” but who really has planted these seeds in our minds? It is the capitalist system telling us what we should be wearing and the clothes we should be changing every few weeks because a new piece is becoming trendy now. It is nearly impossible to keep up with the “fast-paced” environment of our consumer patterns. This is harmful, not only to our mental health but also to our pockets. How much money do we spend on a new outfit every few months? How have we attached a dosage of dopamine to this value? Which takes me to the next very problematic way through which it becomes very difficult to deal with this issue head-on – it is just not affordable. Fast fashion provides exactly that: an affordable, trendy piece, right?