For us at The Harmonic, International Women's Day is a poignant time to reflect on the ongoing issues and inequalities women in the global garment industry face and the work to be done in overcoming them. It's a day to celebrate the female-led brands that champion ethical practices and put people over profit.
Our founders, Vanessa and Libby, are determined to make conscious buying decisions. "This ethos is incorporated into the brands we carry at The Harmonic. We need to ensure that the clothes we purchase and wear are made by women working in fair and safe conditions," says Libby.
“Pick up any item in your closet, and you can just about guarantee a woman made it, since 80% of garment workers are women. It's clear that issues with global fashion supply chains disproportionately affect women."
The origins of International Women's Day can be traced back to March 8th, 1908, when 15,000 female garment workers marched through the streets of New York. The women, predominantly immigrants, protested unendurable working conditions, including unsafe work environments, 60-hour workweeks, and escalating child labour rates. Sadly, their protests brought about little reform.
Three years later, in 1911, a garment factory in lower Manhattan burnt down, killing 146 women. The women, mainly Jewish and Italian immigrants, worked as seamstresses for $3 per week or less and were at the end of a 52-hour workweek when the fire broke out. They were unable to escape from the burning building because the doors to the stairwells and exits were locked - a common practice at the time to prevent workers from taking unauthorised breaks. This horrific fire is still one of the most severe workplace tragedies in American history. This fatal tragedy was a catalyst for change in the American garment industry. However, frighteningly similar conditions still prevail for many working women globally.
Fast-forward to a date that sent shockwaves across the globe - April 24th 2013. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh killed 1134 people. The factory workers had pleaded with managers not to be sent inside after deep cracks had become visible in the eight-story building the previous day. Their managers did not relent. Then, some time before 9 am, after more than 2,000 people had entered the building, floors began to crumble, and workers started falling. Rana Plaza took less than 90 seconds to collapse. Unions called the tragedy a "mass industrial homicide".
Since the tragedy, some positive steps have been taken to secure the safety of garment workers globally. However, we still have a long way to go to protect the millions of women and girls worldwide who make our clothes. Hayat Rachi writes, "You cannot exploit women in one country to empower them in another". Yet still, the overwhelming majority of people who make our clothes endure unsatisfactory working conditions, distinguished by harassment and exploitation, and do not earn a living wage.
Take, for example, how fashion brands have tapped into the market of feminist clothing. You've probably seen slogans like "we should all be feminists", "women will change the world", and "girl power" emblazoned over t-shirts across the world. However, the hypocrisy of empowering ourselves with clothing made by women who don't earn a living wage or have basic workplace protections is untenable.
The survival of our planet and the prosperity of its inhabitants depend on a collective effort as consumers and corporations to radically shift away from the status quo and create a better tomorrow. "We truly believe that the future of fashion is circular," Says Ness.
"We're aware that the most sustainable items of clothing are the ones that you (or somebody else) already own - since it has already been made. Buying pre-loved fashion and choosing brands that are conscious and transparent about their processes is such a positive step in the right direction."
Here at The Harmonic, we are proud to stock some remarkable Australian and New Zealand designers. These brands operate with people and the planet at the forefront of everything they do. From brands such as Maggie Marilyn, who ensure fair and safe work conditions and environmental responsibility throughout their supply chain, to Bassike, Art Club, St. Agni, Nagnata and KITX, who are leading the way in sustainable fashion. We are proud of the brands we represent.
If you're wondering what you can do this International Women's Day to protect the women across the globe who make your clothes, a great way to get involved is to ask your favourite brands #WhoMadeMyClothes. You may be familiar with the campaign created by 'The Fashion Revolution', which encourages consumers to use their voice to ask for solutions to issues that disproportionately impact women, including:
- How do you ensure women working in your supply chain don't experience verbal, physical and sexual harassment?"
- Do you provide mandatory fire and safety training for the people who make your clothes?
- Do your workers have access to healthcare benefits and childcare facilities?
- How many workers in your supply chain earn a living wage?
- Can your workers exercise their right to join a union?
- Do you perform due diligence surrounding forced and bonded labour?
Today and every day, let's empower each other and rise together.
Written by Chelsea Donaldson.