Gender Spotlight #1: What does sexism in the fashion industry look like?
Meet Carolin Hofer, she's the founder and co-CEO of Jyoti - Fair Works which is a women-led fair fashion label based in Berlin and South India. They make designs and patterns here - in Berlin - and produce them in cooperation with local Indian NGOs and their team of 25 women over there.
We asked her some questions about sexism in the fashion industry. Here's what she said.
What role do you think gender plays in the fashion industry?
Gender plays a huge role in the fashion industry in general. The majority of garment workers, but also in other related industries as in cotton production, are women and so they are the ones hit by the numerous violations of human and workers rights, underpayment, etc. which are known from the fashion industry. On top there are many examples that especially discriminate women like the denial of maternity leave, sexual harassment at work, no proper access to sanitary facilities (which prevents them from working while having their period), a huge gender wage gap and reduced career possibilities for women.
Due to the unequal distribution of resources spent on the education of girls and boys in many of the countries where garments are produced, women are often forced into those exploitive work conditions. Through repetitive, assembly-line like work in the garment factories, where most workers will always just stitch the same little seam on a shirt and then hand it over to the next person, and a lack of workers rights and unions, people are easily replaceable and always threatened to loose their job. The fashion industry also relies in big parts on home-based "free-lance" workers, who have even fewer rights and power. Again the overwhelming majority of this group are women, which are often preferred not to leave their houses due to patriarchal structures and rules.
Do you think there are any specific solutions to improve the issues of gender inequality in the fashion industry?
Assuming that fair fashion companies are already implementing living wages and safe working conditions, one of the most important additional changes would probably be the active support of workers unions, as a general strengthening of those will benefit all workers in the garment sector, not only the ones working for a few fair fashion labels.
Additionally a different and slower approach on the production of clothes, which means letting one person stitch a whole garment and thereby develop the skills to actually master her craft, prevents the dependency from one specific employer and thereby reduces the chances of being exploited.
And of course we should all simply support, cooperate with and buy from sustainable female businesses and thereby strengthen women's position in the market. There are already so many of them, so there is no need of promoting the existing patriarchal work systems.