By Ayesha Barenblat, Founder, Remake
In the fashion world, talking about empowering women is really trendy right now. From the UN to fashion CEOs, everyone is talking about uplifting women. Yet data suggests a very different story. In an article “Fashion’s Woman Problem”, the New York Times reported that 85% of graduating designers from fashion schools are female. Yet once we reach senior management the gender balance shifts. Men take over.
At the other end of the supply chain the patterns are very similar. Eighty percent of garment makers in factories around the world are women. She is the backbone of our industry yet hidden from our collective consciousness. Most supervisors, union leaders and managers are men.
It has been heartening to see models and influencers–those who market fashion to us–bravely come forward to share their #metoo stories. These experiences are mirrored by the makers of our clothes. In Remake’s Made In docuseries, we have uncovered story after story of pervasively low wages, sexual harassment and assault, short-term contracts and pregnancy discrimination. Why is it that fashion, an industry dominated by women’s wear and profitable thanks to female dollars – an industry that is sold by women, made by women and bought by women – is still largely run by men?
Made in Mexico: A film on what’s really needed
It is against this backdrop that we wanted to make Made in Mexico, a story of what real women’s empowerment within the fashion industry could look like. In the short, we take influencer and activist Amanda Hearst along with up-and-coming designers Sajida and Yesi to bear witness to fashion’s impact on the lives of Olivia and Reina, two brave garment makers behind our Mexican fast fashion labels. This film is ultimately a story of the power of women coming together, in sisterhood, to make fashion a force for good.
Olivia, one of the makers in the film, has worked in export garment factories known as maquilas her whole life, sewing for Walmart among other brands and amid conditions of violence and sexual misconduct. Another maker featured is Reina, who began working in a maquila at the tender age of 14. She shared with us how brands speak beautifully about corporate responsibility in their codes of conduct . Yet she has not seen any of the marketing language translate into better lives for women on the factory floor.
In the film we see Reina coming into her power. The more she understands her rights as a woman, the more she engages other women to know their rights and rise up. Her frontline advocacy work is the type of effort our industry should support to truly empower women.
A number of fashion brands’ women’s empowerment programs center on trainings that give women confidence or health and wellness education. But what we found in the making of this film is that the women who make our clothes are plenty empowered. What she needs is not empowerment workshops but a seat at the table, living wages, and a voice in the system.
The film also aims to disavow the way Western media often portrays garment makers as passive victims. As Sajida notes of the makers she met, “These women are strong and are actively fighting against a system that’s trying to keep them down.” A fashion system of pervasively low wages and punishing long hours to meet demand for our clothes to come to us cheaper and faster is what keeps women stuck in a cycle of poverty and oppression.
A fashion system of pervasively low wages and punishing long hours to meet demand for our clothes to come to us cheaper and faster is what keeps women stuck in a cycle of poverty and oppression.
Behind the scenes for Made in Mexico
We always time the release of our Made In series with April, as a way to never forget the anniversary of Rana Plaza, where locked doors and a building collapse claimed the lives of 1,135 mostly young women. From Pakistan to Cambodia and now Mexico we aim to show shoppers that fast fashion is inherently violent and built on the oppression of women.
“What we learned is that the makers of our clothes want shoppers to be more curious and ask more about who makes our clothes.”
When we first started these journeys we were able to call in favors to get brands and retailers that I had worked alongside for many years to let us into factories. Once our visual transparency started to bring home some very uncomfortable truths, we started to get shut out.
By the time we got to Mexico, no one would let us in. So we worked with activists on the frontlines to bring garment makers to us. The makers we met took planes, buses and days off to meet us and share the impact of fashion on their lives. We were awestruck by their courage. Amanda Hearst was surprised at the deeply personal stories women shared with us. One of the makers said to her, “no one has ever asked us before.” What we learned is that the makers of our clothes want shoppers to be more curious and ask more about who makes our clothes.
Watch the film and Wear Your Values.
At Remake, we hold the big, audacious goal of getting one million women to be a part of our Wear Your Values campaign. We are building a sustained community of women that want to know who makes our clothes and take our pledge to buy less and better. Together we can slow down fashion’s staggering impact on waste and climate by supporting rental, vintage and consignment options. We also give our Seal of Approval to brands that truly put women and our planet first, to make it easy for all of us to buy better.