Mara Darivaki is a second year Politics student at KCL interested in examining violence and exploitation against all forms of life, both human and animal.
[Featured Image: Piles of clothing filling a large room to the ceiling. Sticking out of these piles is one lone ladder.]
Looks are certainly not everything, but it seems that a lot of people whether they realise it or not, do everything to feel beautiful. I am not talking about excessive dieting, spending money on unnecessary beauty products or being very obsessive about what other people think of you. Although such behaviours do come with a high cost, there is a much darker side to our beauty that few of us realise and many of us ignore. The million-dollar question of the situation is “How far are you willing to go and how much injustice are you willing to ignore to feel beautiful?”. Most of us will be quick to answer that we would not want our beauty to cause injustice and suffering. Some of us might find this question self-explanatory, unnecessary and even confusing. Since we have established that none of us would be willing to feel beautiful at the expense of others, the next questions I am going to pose are going to sound much more confusing and definitely outrageous. “Would you force people from disadvantaged backgrounds to work unreasonable hours for little money and under terrible conditions for you to feel beautiful?” “Would you want children to drop out of school and work in mines at their risk of their own life so that you can take the perfect selfie?” “Would you be okay if women were being harassed, blackmailed and fired from their jobs if they became pregnant, in order for you to have your graduation dress?” “Do you think animals should be tortured, killed and treated like commodities for your eyeshadow?” And last but certainly not least, “Would it be fair if the environment got destroyed so both men and women feel confident in their looks?” If your response to all of the questions were no, then it’s time for us to have a real conversation about the fashion and beauty industry and the enormous detriment it causes to our world.
More than ever, the fashion and beauty industry have taken over our lives to the point that we turn a blind eye to their cruel industry practices. The constant promoting of beauty and fashion products on social media platforms, the normalisation of cosmetic procedures, the cult of celebrity and the glorification of opulent lifestyles, have distanced us from our core values. We have been made to value our personal comfort more than life itself and this can be demonstrated from our “simplest” (at least they were) choices. Our consumption choices. Even though exploitation can be found in every industry, what makes the fashion’s and beauty’s industry exploitation more sinister in a sense, is that it takes advantages of our own insecurities and weaponizes them against the most vulnerable. The issue of this exploitation concerns people of all genders and sexualities, but it is no secret that the “glamorous” world of beauty has always targeted women more extensively than any other social group.
So, “What is wrong with our fashion?”
Long story short, everything is wrong with our fashion, from the materials it uses, the treatment of its workers to the way it is packaged and distributed. However, since one can go on and on about the disastrous effects of fashion in the different spheres of life, we are going to focus on the harm fashion does to people. The main issue with the fashion industry today is its transformation to a “fast industry” where new products are introduced to the market at ridiculously low prices and at a very low quality. This business strategy is very effective at producing huge profits for those fashion giants and very inefficient in providing us with good services. At this point in time, I think all of us know that the main brands from which we buy our clothes from are fast fashion industries. Zara, Topshop, H&M to name a few, operate under such regimes and their clothes are intentionally of poor quality so we can buy from them again and again so the big guys can get a bigger pool. This is the exploitation of these industries on us, the consumers, but one could argue that one might not be interested in the quality of his/her clothing and would just prefer a large wardrobe that he/she can change overtime.
Therefore, if you don’t mind spending your money on poor quality clothing you should consider the effects fast fashion has on its employees. All the clothes the fashion giants want you to buy are produced in sweatshops which can be described as factories of poor conditions in which the workers work for long hours for very little money. Sweatshops can be located in India, Bangladesh, China, Mexico and in many other places across the world. There is plenty of activism and evidence that verifies the horrific conditions under workers, mostly women and children are forced to work in. According to The Guardian, in Indian sweatshops where clothes for Gap, H&M and for other well-known brands, it is estimated that women are paid so little that even with a month’s salary the women would not be able to buy a single product that they produce3. A lot of women also reported that they are subjected to physical and verbal violence by their supervisors when they are unable to meet their unrealistic daily targets3. Women in those industries are also deprived of their right to a maternity leave and are sometimes fired if they become pregnant. The big fashion industries take pride in themselves for supposedly providing women with empowering pieces of fashion that break gender stereotypes. They “forget” to mention though, that the same piece of fashion literally pays men to harass and abuse women in some other place of the world. If child labour allegations, poverty wages and sexual harassment are not good enough reasons for one to quit fast fashion, let’s take a moment to remember the collapse of the Rana Plaza Sweatshop in Dhaka Bangladesh in 2013, which killed 1,134 people and injured at least 2,500 more. Brands involved in the tragedy, include Walmart and Primark and many other millionaire fashion industries. So, next someone compliments your “killer t-shirt”, remember that it is indeed a killer T-shirt.
So, what do we wear?
Well, don’t worry too much! Thanks to climate change (which is also accelerated by fast fashion) every summer gets even hotter so you might as well go around naked! All jokes aside, due to increased awareness on the plight of the fast fashion there are many start-up brands that aim at providing you with exploitation-free and sustainable fashion. You can use the “Good on You” app to discover ethical fashion brands or receive information about the brands you already shop from. The best thing you could do is shop from thrift shops to ensure that you are not adding to the profit of fashion giants and to contribute to the reusage of clothes that would otherwise end up in the landfills. Finally, make sure that you do your research. Our lives are too busy and we often forget our duty to be responsible consumers. Think about it this way: If you wouldn’t pay someone to mistreat women and children then why be the biggest of fun of his company. No matter how busy your life is, it is crucial to remember the impact your choice might have on others. At the end of the day we all have been blessed with Internet services where you can find many bloggers, articles and documentaries that could help you make ethical consumption choices.
What about beauty?
The industry of beauty can be considered as problematic as the fashion industry but in different ways. For years the main concern around the beauty industry was the use of animal testing which was done extensively and unnecessarily on animals who would spend their whole life inside cages. Animal activists and campaigners have managed to raise awareness on the issue and nowadays more and more people choose cruelty-free cosmetics while major beauty brands have banned animal testing altogether. However, what seems to be the main issue with the cosmetic industry is the supply of some of it’s essential materials. This year Refinery29 uploaded a revealing documentary about the industry of mica, a shimmery mineral that is used in almost every makeup product (there are older journalist investigation on the industry of Mica but Reifenery29’s one went viral). What the reportage revealed is that mica is mined by children in India who are taken out of school to work in dangerous conditions for very little remuneration. Most of the children working in India are girls due to gender stereotypes that prevail in the country. The documentary reveals that many children have injured themselves while other less fortunate ones have even died while working in the mines.
Beauty brands choose to remain silent on the issue and on their side, they have the all-powerful online beauty community which recklessly advertises products that use unethical mica. It is almost comical to scroll through social media and look at all the beauty gurus who claim to support diversity and inclusivity while the cosmetics’ industry has been nothing but inclusive. It took years for the beauty industry to create skin products (foundations, bronzers, concealers etc.) that take into consideration deeper skin tones and the majority of them still work for their “white” clients. To come back to mica, it is clear the beauty industry is only interested in their products to be inclusive for people who can afford them. If you’re a child from a disadvantaged background in India though, they couldn’t care less if your life is much worse than their average client.
So, what beauty products do we use?
As I mentioned earlier research is the key. Since the online beauty community is truly enormous, there are plenty youtubers, vloggers and influencers you can find that use ethical brands. Try to avoid supporting youtubers that are not conscious about the products they’re promoting and as a general rule avoid titan beauty brands. Most of them use mica, unsustainable packaging and materials while some of them still test their products on animals. Try using organic and natural makeup as those brands tend to apply strict ethical policy whether that’s living wage policy, ethical supply chain policy or a cruelty free policy.
So, what is the point?
Globalisation and the development of capitalist markets have made consumption much more complicated than it was before. It is impossible to know what we’re buying and what we are consuming and what effects our consumption has on others. The beauty and fashion industry have managed to integrate themselves and their bad practices into the lives of women and men almost silently and we have shown no resistance. Some of us know about sweatshops yet find it so hard to stop shopping from exploitive brands. There is an abundance of campaigns coming from those brands, trying to convince women that their products will make them feel confident, beautiful, empowered. And somehow this image has become more important to us than children being forced to work in mines, women being harassed and abused by men and people risking their lives everyday to produce low quality products. This article is not about shaming anyone who shopped at Zara yesterday or about criticising people who do not have the time to look into ethical fashion and beauty. This is about women taking their self-image out of the market. This is about women saying that they do not need those awful companies to be selling them their products so that they feel confident in their own skin.
This is about understanding that beauty and fashion can change if we ask more from them. So, try making more conscious decisions without being obsessive about it and remember that your beauty should not make someone else’s life ugly.
- Alam, Julhas (2013). “At least 87 dead in Bangladesh building collapse”. USA Today. Accessed from: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/24/bangladesh-building-collapse/2108727/
- Bebsack, Leslie (2019). “The Makeup Industry’s Darkest Secret Is Hiding In Your Makeup Bag”. Refinery29.Accessed from: https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2019/05/231987/mica-in-makeup-mining-child-labor-india-controversy. (date accessed: 5 November 2019)
- Chamberlain, Gethin (2012). “India’s clothing workers: ‘They slap us and call us dogs and donkeys’”. The guardian. Accessed from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/25/india-clothing-workers-slave-wages (date accessed: 5 November 2019)
- Greenhouse, Steven (2013). “As Firms Line Up on Factories, Wal-Mart Plans Solo Effort”. The New York Times. Accessed from: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/business/six-retailers-join-bangladesh-factory-pact.html(date accessed: 5 November 2019)
- Hunter, Isabel. “Crammed into squalid factories to produce clothes for the West on just 20p a day, the children forced to work in horrific unregulated workshops of Bangladesh”. Daily Mail. Accessed from: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3339578/Crammed-squalid-factories-produce-clothes-West-just-20p-day-children-forced-work-horrific-unregulated-workshops-Bangladesh.html(date accessed: 5 November 2019)
- “What’s wrong with the fashion industry”. SustainyourStyle. Accessed from: https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry(date accessed: 5 November 2019)