Is your feminist t-shirt really making a difference for women?

By Livia Paula, ROUND + SQUARE

The feminist movement has been around for decades. In 1920, the 19th amendment granted American women the right to vote, and females in and out of the United States have continued to fight for gender equality for years to come—a fight that is still ongoing today.
 
But over the past few years, the feminist movement became stronger and even more popular around the world. With the power of globalization and social media, women’s rights supporters are tirelessly working to spread the gender equality message. With that, there’s a lot of merchandise to help communicate it. In a world where news and trends travel so quickly, the pressure of getting products out first can get rather messy, especially in the fashion world.
 
Take the 2016 presidential election for example. Hilary Clinton made history as the Democratic presidential nominee, and her historical and heated race against Donald Trump resulted in a lot of remarkable phrases. Remember when Trump called her a “nasty woman” in a debate? How many “nasty woman” tees and merchandise have you seen shortly after?
 
In January of 2017, people all over the world took to the streets participating in the historical “Women’s March” movement, shortly after Donald Trump took the Oval Office. Signs of empowerment and resistance were seen all around the marches, including in the protester’s clothing and accessories. Phrases such as “Feminist AF,” “The Future is Female,” “We Should all be Feminists” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted” have been seen in t-shirts on college students, celebrities, everyday activists and so on.
 
Some of these products donate proceeds to organizations that help women and girls, such as Planned Parenthood. While many want to spread the feminist message, the majority doesn’t seem concerned with how they are made, let alone with the women making them.
 
In 2014, Fawcett Society became popular with their “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” tops. Emma Watson—known for being an advocate for women’s rights—wore one of their pieces on the cover of ELLE UK’s December 2014 feminist issue. However, the company was soon under fire when allegations when a Daily Mail reporter reported that their products were made in a sweatshop by women who were underpaid, and living under inhumane conditions in Mauritius—with 16 women sleeping cramped in a room.


Let’s not forget the cotton used in the making of those tees. Conventional cotton pickers are predominantly women and girls. In a 2011 study in Pakistan from the Bonfring international Journal of Data Mining, Hammad Zafar and Abou Bakar stated that women cotton pickers complain of dizziness, muscular pain, and suffocation due to pesticides poisoning. Aside from being underpaid compared to male workers, thousands of workers become the victim of various health hazards due to the poor environmental management system.
 
In women, pesticides have been linked to leukemia, lymphoma, cancers of the breast and ovaries. According to the same study, female cotton pickers hardly get any medical treatment and receive little to no information on the side-effects of pesticides compared to male cotton pickers. They are also vulnerable to cuts, skin rashes, and diseases, stomach problems and tiredness. Amongst female agricultural workers and wives of men working with pesticides, there have been increased cases of miscarriages, stillbirths, and delayed pregnancy.
 above image from Reuters

For those who care about where their feminist t-shirts – and all clothing – comes from, choosing brands that are transparent while following high social, labor and ecological standards might be the way to go. ROUND + SQUARE, for example, is a conscious fashion brand created by fashion designer Henriette Ernst in support of gender equality. The brand’s t-shirts spread the messages of gender equality, and 30% of its sales profits go to Equality Now, an organization that advocates for women and girls around the world.

ROUND + SQUARE t-shirts are made with 100% organic cotton with the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certification, guaranteeing strict environmental and social criteria on all steps during the production process – from the field to the final product. Hazardous pesticides and toxic chemicals are banned, and no forced or child labor is allowed.
 
On Saturday, January 20, 2018, thousands of women will march once again on the anniversary of the Women’s March. As we speak out against gender inequality, let’s not forget the rights and well-being of the females involved in making your feminist t-shirts.
 
Join our panel conversation “Is your feminist t-shirt making a difference?” on Wednesday, January 17 from 7PM-9PM at Good Goods, in SoHo! For tickets and more information, visit the event page.