Don’t blame Beyoncé for the hard life of clothing manufacturers | Sophie Slater

AAs the co-founder of an ethical and feminist brand, I find it great to see media coverage exposing the use of illegal labor. It’s my job to be aware of the depressing statistics. Like the fact that 40,000 fingers are lost in Chinese factories in the Pearl River Delta, or that thousands of cotton farmers in India kill themselves every year. However, fast fashion is big business, and because it’s not fun or glamorous to think about, these things aren’t common knowledge.

The workers who created the coveted new designs for Beyoncé’s Ivy Park line are said to have lived and worked in terrible conditions. Ivy Park has vigorously defended itself against these allegations, but across the fashion industry many workers are paid pennies an hour and live and sleep in cramped quarters – no one can deny the level operating suffered on behalf of leisure wear. So to pin the blame solely on Beyoncé is absurd, and perhaps another example of the double standards that women of color face in the fashion industry.

It was the Sun, that staunch defender of women and the working class, that took it upon itself to report on this latest case of low-paid workers and attack Beyoncé for it. The same newspaper celebrated Kylie Jenner’s proclamation that she was a feminist and covered her plans to do another collab line with Topshop just two weeks earlier. Slamming a woman of color, then celebrating the same career trajectory of a white woman as an aspiration — to some, that may sound all too familiar.

Blaming the alleged cruelty behind Beyoncé’s new line of leotards as a personal failure of hers distracts us from the larger issue at hand. While people would be right to note the irony of a brand that commodifies “empowerment” but is made by women on poverty wages (80% of clothing makers are women, after all), l icon is not to blame – it’s our whole fashion industry.

While one could interpret Topshop boss Phillip Green’s remarks that Beyoncé’s long and “involved” co-partnership in Ivy Park meant she would be supply chain conscious, in reality it There are dozens of layers of bureaucracy allowing the people at the top to keep their consciences clear. Retailers use increasingly complicated networks of subcontractors, middle managers and subcontractors before their designs reach suppliers. Factories like the one in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, which collapsed killing more than a thousand people, are being hired and populated by workers who will never know the life of comfort enjoyed by the customers they die for. desire to make clothes. And retailers often don’t know who manufactures their clothes, or they are assured by other subcontractors that the ethical conditions are sufficient.

It would also be naïve to assume that Beyoncé is different from most stars or designers at the top of a big brand campaign. A quick peek inside many of the “special range” labels will show garments made in Bangladesh, the country with the highest density of sweatshops in the world. In fact, unless your label explicitly states otherwise, your clothes were probably made in a sweatshop. Whether in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or even Leicester, underpaid workers in poor conditions make most of the clothes we wear.

Our alienation from that work is the problem, and a dazzling brand image can confuse us all. The genesis of our clothes in a horrible factory is hard to imagine when a package arrives as if from nowhere, wrapped in beautiful fabrics, on our doorstep. Branding sells us ideas of empowerment or makes us believe that a product represents more than it actually does.

While fashion is undeniably a feminist issue, feminism is too often treated as a club that middle-class white people (including Sun writers) bring to the police. In reality, our relationship with capitalism is all complicated and problematic to varying degrees. When Philip Green is knighted and celebrated as a billionaire business mogul, others could be forgiven for responding to the lure of collaborating with him. Beyoncé may not have done much to change this as an individual, but we have the power as consumers to challenge all brands and systems that profit from exploitation.

The solution lies in supporting brands that do things differently. Like those who combine the principles of empowering customers with empowering women makers. It works for our business, anyway.

Buy from brands where you can see the face of someone who made an item. There’s a reason we take portraits of the women who make our clothes and have them sign their clothing labels. Because if you don’t care about people growing lemons, then lemonade tastes sour – no matter how much corporate sugar was added or whoever made it.

Michael O. Stutler