If the racks of Topshop are anything to go by, I’m not alone in my newfound penchant for feminist clothing. Blame Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior – the label’s “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirts from 2017 garnered as much admiration as controversy. A natural trickle down to the high street quickly followed, and t-shirts and jumpers claiming “The Future Is Female” and the like were suddenly everywhere.
I too succumbed, picking up this “Feminist” t-shirt from Topshop towards the end of last year. I’ve identified as a feminist for as long as I can remember, but I admit to wavering when I walked out the store, because here’s the thing; is wearing a mass-produced (read: cheaply made) piece of apparel helping feminism?
On the one hand, a fashion statement can arguably help generate discussion and bring a topic into public consciousness. A t-shirt like this could spark conversation in the pub with someone you’ve never met, resulting in discussion, debate and the opportunity to explain why [insert your chosen cause here] is important.
If such a t-shirt was designed for a charity, or produced in a Fair Trade-approved factory, then it is also – surely – a positive, impactful piece of clothing. A message-driven slogan can also act like a beacon, generating a nod from someone who shares your belief, or making you stand out as an ally in a crowd.
But can I feel good wearing my cause on my (short) sleeve if it comes at the expense of cheap and potentially unregulated labour? As far as I’m aware, no proceeds from the sale of this t-shirt were donated to a female-focused charity or organisation, and Topshop’s parent company doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to ethical business practices.
A young girl or woman working 12 hour days to support her family may well have been behind the sewn hems of my t-shirt, and countless others. She may not have the luxury of being able to boldly display her political, societal or philosophical beliefs to the world, but she should be allowed to, if that’s what she wants.
Fourth wave feminism isn’t about making a fashion statement, it’s about making a change. While I have always considered myself a feminist, perhaps my actions need to speak louder than my slogan t-shirts.