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Fawcett Society says Elle X Whistles pro-feminist T-shirts ARE ethically sourced


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The Elle X Whistles ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt has hit the headlines in recent weeks – while the collaboration was applauded during its initial release, with everyone from Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Watson to Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband spotted proudly sporting the slogan T-shirt, things soon turned sour. 

On 1st November, the Mail on Sunday reported claims that the apparently ethical £45 T-shirts were in fact manufactured in Mauritius sweatshops, with women machinists being paid just 62p an hour and sleeping 16 to a room.

However, there now appears to be another twist in the tale, and one which will undoubtedly be welcome news for the pro-feminist fashion partnership.  Women's group The Fawcett Society, who were last year approached by Elle to ask if they could help with a redesign of the Society’s iconic ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt in line with the launch of the special ‘Feminist’ December issue of the magazine, has investigated and rejected the Mail’s claims.

The Fawcett Society has said that it has seen evidence which ‘categorically refutes’ reports that the T-shirts were made under sweatshop conditions. A statement from Eva Neitzert, Deputy CEO of the Fawcett Society, published on the Fawcett Society site on 4th November, read: ‘We are pleased to confirm that we have today seen expansive and current evidence from Whistles that the CMT factory in Mauritius they used to produce our ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt conforms to ethical standards.

‘We have been particularly pleased to receive evidence that 100% of workers are paid above the government-mandated minimum wage and all workers are paid according to their skills and years of service. The standard working week is 45 hours, and workers are compensated (at a higher rate of pay) for any overtime worked…

‘An audit into the CMT factory was carried out in October 2014 by an independent not-for-profit organisation and this did not reveal any material concerns on the working conditions, the welfare or the health and safety of workers.’

The group has confirmed that it will continue to support and work with Elle and Whistles on the project, but that ‘whilst we have confidence in the evidence provided to us, we are currently working closely with an international trade union body to scrutinise it so that we can be absolutely assured of its provenance, authenticity and that all findings are robust and factual.’

Feminism is enjoying a new wave of popularity and key players in the fashion industry, whilst often criticised as being misogynistic and influencing young women with negative body images, have embraced a pro-feminist message.

The Elle X Whistles collaboration is not the only feminist fashion event to attract controversy – in September, Chanel’s Paris Fashion Week show featured a parade of placard-wielding models, bearing slogans such as ‘Ladies first’ and ‘History is her story.’

Karl Lagerfeld, the label’s Creative Director, was both applauded and slated, with some critics claiming the brand was co-opting feminism and its present zeitgeist position, demeaning the serious nature of the movement for superficial means. Others commended Lagerfeld’s catwalk for promoting feminism on a global stage as, whatever individual opinions may be, the fashion industry is inarguably hugely influential on, and representative of, societal attitudes.

Clothes might be only a thread count deep, but if impressionable young women are going to be exposed to being labelled in any number of ways by the society we live in as they grow, surely it is preferable that they are encouraged to discover feminism. Young women, and men should not be dissuaded from declaring themselves as feminists because of negative attitudes towards the movement, be it from the media or from ideas engrained in our culture that feminists are unnecessarily angry, ‘man-hating’ or want inequality for men.

If a T-shirt or a runway march manages to reach out to the younger generation and get them to engage with women’s rights and feminism (even if, at first, that may be at a distant level) in a way that our society has, for some time now, failed to achieve, is that not something to be celebrated? Whatever the means, we should be working towards a culture for everyone, of any gender and any age, to be able to call themselves feminists, and to wear that label with pride.


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