Fashion as an industry has revolutionized a whole lot of things and has been around time immemorial. It’s safe to say the history of fashion evolved with the history of people keeping styles, taste, weather, sometimes even political events in mind. The last century alone saw the foundation of modern fashion being set out for some of the most innovative designs and materials used to create voguish ensembles. Whether functional or for fashion, clothes were seen to reflect the person, his/her ranking, or a style statement. The liberating event of women released from traditional corseted confinement to the creation of ready-made unisex clothing itself can take one down the passage of fashion evolution. Most importantly, it even reflects on women’s empowerment.
The Oxford Dictionary online describes ‘empowerment’ as a process of becoming stronger and confident, particularly, when it comes to controlling one’s life or claiming rights. In a sense, fashion has played a key role in doing just the same for men and women historically. Particularly for women’s empowerment, the industry laid a foundation to endorse economic empowerment giving them a sense of independence financially. This new-found freedom through fashion allowed women to express themselves creatively while being financially independent, ruling their own world. This led to the birth of many remarkable brands that were not only founded by women (think the likes of Coco Chanel) but also employed men and women alike to work in the garment industry. Historically, fashion was also used to communicate the wearer’s views even, believed by the designer and wearer alike. Wearing these were seen as being part of a movement of sorts. It often reflected a sign of solidarity. Soon, it was not just a garment to wear, it was a medium of empowerment.
Fashion in Today’s World
However, in today’s world, the fashion industry disproportionately employs women over men, with a recent report reporting a shocking 80% of global garment workforce comprising of women aged 18-35. Most of these were employed from developing countries like India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, etc. where labour laws aren’t as stringent and perhaps are less regulated as opposed to first world countries. These can potentially lead to a range of unfair treatment like dangerous working conditions, no fixed contracts or benefits that include sick days and maternity leave or any basic worker’s rights. In fact, the Global Fashion Agenda reports, 87% of Pakistan’s garment industry are paid less than the minimum wage. These are very real problems that still exist.
Many documentaries have explored this subject covering aspects of the apparel industry abusing authority over women with sexual harassment tales, poor working conditions and the general unwarranted nature of the industry in terms of employment. It goes without saying, it’s the hands that make the garments we wear, that matter. The more conscious we are about this, the more uplifting and empowering it is to women in the industry.
Fashion and Confidence in Women
Women have increasingly become confident when it comes to fashion, whether it is to wear it, produce or sell it. The right outfit can make you feel confident too, the way you wear it. For example, pairing up slacks with a crisp shirt and a blazer donned over can make the wearer feel confident, attractive and powerful. Dress the way you wish to feel and you can change any mood swings you experience. Fashion has long been known as an art form too as it’s a way to express yourself, your personality and views. Although what we wear today is mass-produced, it’s how one styles it with the help of accessories and the likes that makes it unique and creative. All of this enhances confidence in the wearer empowering them to be bold, confident and enjoy their sense of freedom. Some women may enjoy fashion as a passion, wanting to take it up as a career. Universities and colleges now offer bespoke courses on fashion designing that can help formalize this passion inspiring students through knowledge of materials, stitches, artwork, print forms, etc.
Fashion designing is increasingly becoming a choice of career amongst women following suit some of the most influential women in the industry. Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, Masaba, are all women who started their career with a deep love for fashion. It is their passion and confidence in their love for the field that helped them arise to a big name empowering themselves. Today, they are leaders in a booming industry and a role model for many women who want to follow their dreams of making a brand of their ideas. The traditional idea of selling too has changed with women choosing to sell their unique pieces online or through social media. This makes buying for homemakers even more simple at the comfort of their home while for the women selling they save up on costs of a retail store including rent, stock storage, electricity, etc. Definitely a win-win as the buyer is in control of her purchase as she wishes while the seller is financially in control.
Fashion can be Empowering to Women
Although a slow rise, 40% of women’s wear brands are designed by women while 14% of the 50 major brands are managed by women. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) recently called on the fashion industry to do more towards diversity and inclusion across all workforce levels. Many markets have extended this to include a low tolerance in waste materials while offering greater support to women within the production company and supply chain too. This led to new business models that are unique in nature and all-encompassing – like the circular economy.
Circular economies are not only eco-conscious in nature but also ensure women are given fair employment opportunities while uplifting them to being entrepreneurs themselves. In every sense, this model aims to give back to the society which it receives. Whichever the model of business, companies across the world ensure to include women’s basic rights within. Especially, inequality laws in each country to ensure women get equal and fair treatment and are not misused. The apparel industry is no different – with fixed-term contracts in place ensuring all basic rights are enlisted. With so many options and markets to thrive on, this has created employment opportunities for even the most vulnerable women. Unlike before, they are not just seen as cogs in the wheels that spin to create some of the best designs earning the owner a fortune; but they are guided to being entrepreneurs themselves.
Women are encouraged to run their own fashion business using the help of bank loans and schemes that are available for them to set their own ventures. Whether it’s a small tailoring shop or a retail store that houses select outfits – women are more confident to sell what they believe in today.
It is also safe to say women are the biggest buyers of womenswear brands. Women use fashion to express themselves, creating their own rules on what to wear, how and when, all to empower themselves. Each style is personal with aesthetics differing to include colours, prints, statement jewellery to express oneself. If you haven’t heard of retail therapy, you probably were living under a stone all these years. While it isn’t considered healthy in excess, retail therapy is known to be a stress reliever. Women often succumb to this as one of the ways to feel better and ”in control”. In fact, a study done by researchers at the University of Michigan confirmed that retail therapy or shopping to relieve stress was upto 40 times more effective at giving people a “sense of control”. Additionally, it was reported that shoppers were three times less sad than those who just browsed items to make a decision.
Empowerment is when you recreate and elaborate on what is in your circumstance but were previously denied. Whether you decide to be the buyer, seller or producer, fashion is extremely experimental and personal. What’s in today may be out tomorrow. With such a seasonal timeline, the apparel industry is ever-changing to the needs of the hour. Realistically, there is no one size that fits all. Every woman is a woman of substance and so are her expressions. At the end of the day, empowerment cannot come from the clothes you don or the expensive watch that shimmers on your wrist. It has to come from a decision made within. You only empower yourself when you decide it’s for you. Everything else, including fashion, is a tool to get where you want to be or who you want to be. Choose your tools to empower yourself and be the best version of yourself.
As a woman, to empower yourself, invest in education and give yourself the ability to make the right decision that suits you. If it’s through fashion, you wish to express yourself – let no one be an obstacle to it. Be the wearer in style and in full responsibility to those around you.