Last month we travelled around the world to share the trials and triumphs of the women who make our clothes. This month, Remake has strolled the streets of San Francisco asking shoppers why they shop where they do, and whether they ever think about her, the woman who makes their clothes. We met three types of shoppers. Who clicks with you?
The Apathetic: “We all have our crosses to bear.”
Molly, 33, Sales Associate at H&M
Molly is an H&M Sales Associate, but isn’t there for the clothes. H&M covers Molly’s major gender transition surgeries and hormone replacement therapy. Uncommon in today’s work benefits landscape, Molly has committed 11 working years (and plans to stay put) because of the financial support offered by the fast fashion retailer through her transition.
“I was never a mall rat. I look at fashion more the way you look at art, the way it draws lines in different bodies. Now I can fill clothes better…because, you know, I have the hips, butt and boobs.”
I asked Molly if she ever thought about the makers. In places like India for example, where H&M has 230 reported factories, and wages average $1.46 per hour. Given fast fashion’s low cost and high volume, it’s often the makers that are left behind.
“Yeah,” she replied, “the conditions are terrible. The whole system is just totally fucked on every level. The makers’ experiences are like, wow, heart goes out to you, wish it was better circumstances but it is what it is. We all have our crosses to bear in that sense. No, I don’t think I even want to send a message back to the end maker.”
H&M employees receive a 25% discount to buy more product, or as they say on their own website, buy into the company’s values. But for Molly, it’s not about the fashion. She needs to stay put just like the hundreds of makers in H&M’s factories, because of life’s limitations.
According to this statement on their site, H&M wants their employees to invest in the company by buying H&M clothes. But what values are they actually buying into?
The Newly Awakened: “Is the woman who made this treated well?”
Tiffany, 27, Millennial Tech Worker
Fashion made affordable. Fashion made simple. Fashion made fast. I sat down with Tiffany, a millennial in the tech industry to discover her thoughts on what fast fashion is and what she thinks is behind the curtains of clothes.
For some millennials it’s about fashion being affordable and accessible. They pride themselves in hardly spending a thing. H&M, Banana Republic and Forever 21 are tokens of affordable and stress-free. Your average millennial woman, when complimented on her dress, will nod and say with secretive success, “it’s from H&M!” These brands have enabled us in an insecure job market to refresh our image and afford that end-of-year vacation.
For others like Tiffany, it’s all about prioritizing a life of meaning and happiness over material things. “Fashion has always not been a huge part of my life,” Tiffany said. As a result she’s always gone the fast fashion route because she’s saving for meaningful experiences. “I shop if I need a specific item, like maybe I’ve ripped a hole in my jeans or I’ve recently donated a bunch of clothing. Also if I feel like I need retail therapy.”
And within her favorite fast fashion stores, she cycles through items quickly so she never feels like she needs to pay full price. “I always go to the sales section first.”
When I asked her if she had ever thought about the woman who makes her clothes, she paused and had more questions than answers. “Is she treated well? Does she have opportunities to do other things or was this the only job she had access to? Does she make enough money to at least support herself? What challenges does she have in her life? Does she have access to essentials like food, water and shelter?”
Answers start with questions.
The Convert: “…I used to be a shopaholic.”
Chanel, 23, Wardrobe Stylist and Slow Fashion Advocate
I sat down with Chanel, a 23-year-old Wardrobe Stylist based out of San Francisco who is a Slow Fashion advocate. She wasn’t always this way. “In high school I used to be a shopaholic. I studied fashion in college. But then I couldn’t really commit to being part of the fashion industry because it doesn’t do anything for anyone.”
“I think my awakening came in part when talking to my mother, a Chinese immigrant. We have strong ties to people working in Chinese garment factories. To my mother and to these makers, these jobs are opportunities where otherwise there are none.
Instead of abandoning fashion I started looking for alternatives. I interned with BP Studio, a sustainable brand in Florence, Italy, where the factory was in the very building the designs were made. I met makers and realized there was more to fashion than materialism. I am now working inside the system to help change it. These jobs can be true opportunities if we as shoppers and the business side of this industry committed to it. If I met a maker today, I would say thank you.”
What we wear is one of the most common decisions we make every day. The next time you dress, will you feel apathy, have questions or feel a connection to her — the invisible woman who made that for you?
If we ask more about the maker, we can change her life.