The future of fashion is gonna be dope & other lessons from the Garment Worker Center banquet

Garment Worker Center protest in Los Angeles
Image credits: LA Times

Obviously, I think about ethical fashion a lot, but it’s something else to actually see the faces and hear the voices of the women working in fast fashion sweatshops, fighting for change. 

Last night, I had the privilege of attending the Garment Worker Center banquet in Los Angeles. The Garment Worker Center organizes low-wage garment workers in LA, empowering them to fight back against abusive employers.

The banquet was incredibly illuminating about the struggles of garment workers in LA, but it was ultimately a celebration of the community that had gathered to fight for garment worker rights and the garment workers themselves, who are so brave and strong for standing up to their oppressors.

After a powerful and moving night, I, of course, had some major THOUGHTS that I wanted to write up and share with you. Here ya go.

1. The fight starts here.

Often, we think of sweatshops as an “other country” problem: Bangladesh, China, India. But the reality is that Los Angeles is one of the largest hubs of fast fashion production in the world. If you are an American citizen or resident, as I am and many of you are, this means that there’s so much we can do in our own country to fight for a better fashion industry.

2. As a POC from an immigrant family, the plight of garment workers is in my blood (and maybe yours, too).

Seeing the faces of these women and the families and children and grandchildren reminded me that my grandma was a seamstress, living in LA’s Chinatown, before I was born. The mothers and aunties and grandmas of so many of my friends growing up were garment workers. Traditionally and still to this day, garment workers in the U.S. are vastly immigrant women; today, they are vastly women of color. 

3. Change begins with worker power.

Yes, we can do our best to support ethical fashion brands, and we should.

However, in order to truly change the industry, workers must be empowered to fight back against their oppressors. It’s not enough to be a conscious consumer, although that is resistance in its own way. We must also work in solidarity with worker movements, helping build worker power so that the path forward towards a better fashion industry is led by the garment workers.

What does that look like?

  • We can donate to or volunteer with the Garment Worker Center, the only organization working towards building garment worker power within LA’s fast fashion industry.
  • We can advocate for and support policies that workers believe will change the industry for the better and create more positive working environments.
  • We can pressure fast fashion brands that we know to underpay or rob their workers of their pay (such as Forever 21 and Ross, just to name a couple) to pay the wages they owe and to change their unethical practices.
  • We can participate in movements that challenge and question unethical or non-transparent fashion brands, such as #WhoMadeMyClothes.

4. The future of fashion is gonna be dope.

At the end of the night, the garment workers modeled their own creations in a fashion show. It was fun and uplifting and joyous, with the crowd screaming and whooping and clapping for each woman who had made her own dress, strutting her stuff.

This concept, that fashion should be women of all shapes and sizes and ages proudly wearing the clothes they’ve made with their own hands, feeling beautiful and strong and powerful—it’s a wildly idealistic and stunningly simple one, but it’s the future of fashion that I want to believe in.

The fact that today, the women who create the clothes that make other women feel beautiful, strong, and powerful are not paid enough to buy those clothes, live comfortably, or support their families, is utter bullshit.

But that, my friend, is why you’re here. So let’s keep on working towards a more ethical fashion industry, with workers leading the way.

P.S. Thank you to my friend Katie, who invited me to the banquet and helped organize this amazing event!

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