Feminist in name only: How feminist clothing companies are failing their workers
If you want to buy from a feminist brand, its important to do your research about how the company actually treats its workers.
On Wednesday, staff at the Philadelphia-based company Feminist Apparel confronted their CEO Alan Javier Martofel when 2013 Facebook post surfaced that raised some serious questions about Martofels history with women.
The post read: Ive grinded up on women on buses and at concerts without their consent. Ive made out with the drunk chick at a party because it was easier. Ive put a womans hand on my d— while she was sleeping.
Martofel then went on to explain that hed started Feminist Apparel as a humble attempt to fix rape culture by someone who is guilty of it.
Employees felt misled because this was not the story theyd been previously told about how Feminist Apparel had come into being.
When the companys nine staffers met with Martofel to discuss the matter, he stepped down as CEO but remained part of the company.
Ten days later, he fired every one of his nine employees, leaving himself and a consultant as the only members of staff.
Former Feminist Apparel sales and marketing manager Loretta Gary revealed in a Facebook post that she came on board with the company after believing in Martofels supposed vision of a more feminist fashion industry.
She said: Alan sold me a story of inclusion, collaboration and an eventual revolution within the garment industry that I so deeply wanted to believe in.
Im disgusted, saddened and overwhelmed by the ways in which toxic masculinity, misogyny, white supremacy and capitalist power-dynamics were all too present in a supposed “safe” “feminist” work environment.
This isnt the first time that loudly feminist companies have been revealed not to be very feminist at all, by exploiting staff and engaging in poor labour practices.
Under former CEO Sophia Amoruso, several lawsuits were filed against the US clothing brand Nasty Gal, with one employee alleging that her contract was terminated because she had become pregnant. Anonymous sources inside the company described the workplace environment, far from being a mutually supportive one, was toxic.
This was all particularly galling as Amoruso had released a book in 2014 entitled Girlboss (which then became the subject of a Netflix show), billing itself as a guide for other girls like her [Amoruso]: outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success.
The period-proof underwear brand Thinx recently came under scrutiny after former employee Chelsea Leibow reported that they had been a victim of repeated sexual harrassment by the companys founder and former CEO Miki Agrawal. The employee alleged that Agrawal fondled the breasts of her employees, FaceTimed them while in the toilet and naked in bed, changed in front of employees and spoke in intimate detail about her sex life.
According to another employee who preferred to remain anonymous, Agrawal also fat shamed potential customers, saying that people at the US sizes 3X and larger should go to the gym and lose weight instead of purchasing new underwear.
Agrawal denies any wrongdoing, describing Thinx as an open and free-ranging workplace and saying that her conversations had been taken out of context.
Thinx have been praised for their inclusive approach and using a transgender and agender model in a 2017 campaign. Tyler Ford, the model in question, described their experience as essentially a transphobic one, where they were asked invasive questions and asked to read a script that was literally 2 trans folks harassing each other on stage.
An in-depth report from Racked also revealed that Thinx handled firing its employees badly and the company lacked an appropriate parental leave policy, despite billing itself as a progressive, feminist brand.
Changes have now been made at Thinx. The companys new CEO, Maria Molland Selby, says that the brand has a new employees handbook with sexual harassment and non-discrimination policies, new health insurance subsidies, an extension on the parental leave policy and annual training sessions conducted by third parties. Selby describes 2018 as a fresh start for a lot of people.
As feminism has increasingly entered the mainstream, high street brands from Primark to H&M have jumped on the bandwagon with slogan tees and other garments professing feminism and girl power.
However, many of these brands have poor track records in terms of the treatment of the workers who make their clothes.
Primark has long come under scrutiny for its rock bottom prices and potential links to child labour. In 2013, an eight storey factory that catered for a number of global brands in Bangladesh collapsed, resulting in over 1,100 deaths. Since then, the budget retailer has sought to reposition itself as an ethical place to shop, publishing a global sourcing map that shows exactly where its garments are produced.
However, Primark outsources all of its manufacturing and therefore can easily evade responsibility for the wages that garment workers are paid and the conditions they work in.
As for H&M, the second largest clothing retailer in the world can only boast that between one and 25% of their supply chain facilities pay workers a living wage.
In 2014, a Mail on Sunday investigation revealed that the Whistles This is what a feminist looks like t-shirt was made in sweatshop conditions by women in Mauitius, who were paid just 62p an hour. The T-shirts sold at a retail price of £45.
The garment industry is overwhelmingly populated by women. Around 80% of garment workers worldwide are female, and bosses engage in discriminatory hiring practices in order to keep it this way. Women are desirable due to sexist stereotypes that paint them as more flexible and less likely to rock the boat. Women are routinely harassed and subjected to abuse, and the domestic responsibilities that are also heaped upon them mean that they are simply left with no time to organise, unionise or demand better treatment.
A Bangladeshi factory worker told the Clean Clothes Campaign: Women can be made to dance like puppets, but men cannot be abused in the same way. The owners do not care if we ask for something, but demands raised by the men must be given some consideration. So they do not employ male workers.
Feminism is the advocacy of womens rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. Brands that exploit garment workers, models and employees should not be able to bandy the term around with impunity. It has meaning. Its a political movement and not a cynical way to flog clothes to Western women.
Until feminist companies start actually putting their money with their mouth is regarding workers rights, they dont deserve to use the label.