A while back, I had some extra time before meeting a friend after work. Since it was the dead of winter in “Chi-beria,” I headed to a nearby mall to get in my steps. After trading in shopping malls for thrift stores a couple of years ago, I felt as out of place as David Muir in Manhattan. Overwhelmed by the clouds of perfume and crush of shoppers, I made a beeline to the exit.
On my way, I passed Forever 21, the gargantuan fast-fashion retailer I frequented as a teenager. Behind a pane of glass hung a red hooded sweatshirt with “Feminist” printed in bold font. The irony was breathtaking. Here was a retailer capitalizing on the feminist movement while simultaneously oppressing women workers and artists. Garment workers’ rights are women’s rights. And women’s rights are human rights.
After all, Clean Clothes Campaign, a garment workers’ rights organization, estimates 80% of garment workers are female.
For years, Forever 21 has been the subject of various news reports. Reported transgressions range from appropriating designs of independent female artists to seemingly violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act to skirting United States minimum wage laws.
Printing the words “feminist” on a garment does not make it so! Only a shirt produced in a way that respects the rights of workers, artists and communities could truly be considered “feminist.” But where could I find such a shirt?
Fast forward to a couple months ago when I became a brand ambassador for CAUSEGEAR, a certified fair-trade apparel company with a mission to end modern slavery. Brand ambassadorship was something I approached thoughtfully, ensuring the brand’s values and aesthetic were true to the UVE mission and vision. I met the founders of CAUSEGEAR while covering the Chicago Fair Trade’s Magnificent Mile of Fair Trade event and was captivated by their passion.
The first item I received from CAUSEGEAR was an authentically “feminist” shirt. I adore my soft gray crew with the phrase, “For Human Justice.” I feel powerful every time I wear my beautiful CAUSEGEAR shirt because it aligns with my feminist values. And when someone asks about my shirt, I have an opportunity to educate them about the garment industry and recommend ways they can stand up and fight back.
As a teenager ignorant of the perils of fast-fashion, I gobbled up every witty shirt I could get my hands on. But now I know that while it is tempting to purchase a shirt with a word or phrase with which I identify on it, the meaning is hollow without the business practices to back it up.
-Una Voce Equa
*I am a brand ambassador for CAUSEGEAR, but all views represent my own personal opinion
© 2021 Emma Westfall