Make it safer for everyone.
Fashion should be a source of pure joy, exploration and self-expression. But for so many women and LGBTQ + people around the world who work in the fashion and textile industry, it can be an uncomfortable, dangerous, and downright traumatic space.
All over the world, and especially here in Australia, visionary and hardworking women and gays are the beating heart of the fashion industry, and sadly, they are not always safe or protected. With a mission to better understand and eventually eradicate gender-based violence in the fashion industry, the Australian non-profit association Collective fashion justice (CFJ) partners with a feminist tech start-up She is a crowd to collect real stories and experiences within the Australian fashion industry.
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The data will be transformed into a report to inform and guide decision makers towards the creation of what CFJ describes as a total ethical fashion system, which is “the one who values the life and well-being of humans and non-humans, as well as the planet, before profit”. We love the sound of it.
While the project is still in its early stages, I spoke with the founding director of the group; writer, model and activist Emma Hankansson, about her own unsavory experiences in the industry and why it’s so important that we all support the project.
Hey Emma, thanks for chatting! Let’s start by explaining why you wanted to get involved in this project in the first place.
Hi Ruby! So I decided to launch CFJ because I saw the need for an organization that considers ethics as a whole. There are great organizations working on sustainability issues in the industry, big brands dedicated to workers’ rights and animal rights groups working to raise awareness of the exploitation involved in fashion.
What I didn’t see, however, was a sufficient connection between these issues – for example, we know that leather manufacturing finances the slaughter of animals, which is responsible for massive emissions, land degradation, water use and deforestation. And that forced labor in the leather industry (as well as the hazardous work that is almost always done by the colored poor) is commonplace. These leather goods are then often sewn by women of color who do not receive a living wage. If we don’t recognize how these injustices are related, it’s much harder to root them out and switch to a gentler form of fashion.
Since the creation of the CFJ, what types of projects and events have you been working on?
Last year CFJ did a lot! We have broken stories as a result of testing “faux fur” sold in Australia which is in fact illegally mislabelled genuine animal fur from cruel factory farms, we have published new data on the environmental impact of materials, which has been published by Vogue Business, posted a award-winning short on the total production of ethical knitwear, created free educational resources on total ethical fashion that have since been sent to NYU, Parsons and other fashion schools, and more.
CFJ’s next project with She’s A Crowd is to collect data on gender-based violence in the fashion industry, which seems like a huge task. How are you going to approach it?
CFJ and She’s a Crowd will work together to collect data on the impact of gender-based violence and inequality on the Australian fashion industry. Once we’re fully funded, that will mean creating a survey specific to the fashion industry and the people who work in it, so people can share their stories about their experiences working in the industry.
Sometimes this will require translation, especially since there are many migrant women in what is sometimes referred to as an “invisible workforce”, working from home for an often abusive piece rate. Once we have all of this data and stories, we’ll analyze all the trends and write a report sharing our findings.
Why did you decide to work with She’s A Crowd on this one?
Before founding CFJ, I worked for an animal welfare organization, and for She’s A Crowd. I am passionate about gender equality and know that She’s A Crowd has a unique and wonderful mission, to create this equality by closing the data divide that can leave women and the queer community misunderstood, and therefore less protected.
While there are obvious benefits to collecting data, why collect data specifically on the experiences of women and LGBTQ + people in the fashion industry? Did you recognize a data gap or was there an obvious industry wide issue?
We know that 77% of the Australian fashion industry is made up of women, and we also know that women and the queer community built the industry for what it is today – what would fashion be without us ?! At the same time, we know that in Bangladesh 28 percent of textile workers, who are predominantly female (80 percent of garment workers are) are victims of sexual abuse. In Cambodia, it is one in three.
Considering these statistics and the fact that gender-based violence is a real problem in Australia (just watch the news), the fact that there is no data on this problem in the fashion industry is worrying. From my own experience, when I was working as a model in Australia, I was sexually assaulted by a photographer, and I know it was not a unique experience. We want to hear from women in the fashion industry. Models, textile workers, dye workers, cotton producers, slaughterhouse workers, retail salespeople, designers, photographers – everyone.
Is there a link between data and harm reduction? If so, can you explain your understanding of this connection?
We can’t solve problems that we don’t know or understand. To make sure gender-based violence is not rampant in the Australian fashion industry, we need to know what it looks like today for women and LGBTQ + people. We also need to know what these people think about their security and how it could be improved. Survivors have a great deal of knowledge and they need to be heard.
Have you started collecting data? What will this process look like?
We have not yet started collecting data and we will not be able to do so until we have reached our funding target. However, we have started to build the network in which we will publish this survey – by connecting with unions, policy makers and other industry groups who can connect us with people. We will need the survey to be distributed to as many people as possible. These people will also have the opportunity to talk to us further, after the investigation.
At the end of this project, what do you hope it will come out of your discoveries?
We will publish a report with our findings, along with recommendations on what the fashion industry in Australia can do to improve the safety of women and LGBTQ + people. We will work hard to ensure that these recommendations are taken seriously and that they are implemented by those in positions of power.
How can we as readers, consumers and producers help?
We really need financial support to undertake this great project. So far Citizen Wolf has sponsored the work as a brand, for which we are very grateful. We need people to ask their favorite brands to contact us to support the work as well, and we need people to support the work, which people can do. via our website.
To learn more about the work of CFJ and She’s A Crowd, visit here.