Our previous discussions on the empowerment and individualism that fashion brings to women, generates a general view of the fashion industry. The film, Made in L.A., showed us a different perspective on how the fashion industry can, in fact, disempower and exploit women. The public generally does not link the term “sweatshop” to fashion, although they do play a huge part in what Nancy Green describes as fashion cycles. Sweatshops are workplaces where employees are exploited, paid very low wages, lack benefits and are subjected to working in horrible conditions. This is nothing new to the world of fashion. It has been a constant cycle of supply and demand. Mass production forced the involment of sweatshops not only within the U.S. but internationally.The fashion industry demands for large amounts of ready-to-wear clothing at affordable prices. This is the reason why cheap labor is required to fullfill the needs of these demands.
Immigrant women of Chinese and Hispanic descent are usually the main groups of people to be contracted to work in the garment industry. These women have little to no agency within this type of environment. Exploitation of workers is common and many refuse to seek justice because of fear of deportation. Language barriers cause issues between employer and employee as well. There is also the issue of sterotyping the common sweatshop worker as being uneducated. It is ironic how the same industry that claims to bring a sense of freedom to women will also subordinate them to a mere “insignificant ” person.
Sweatshop environments can cause these women to peceive themselves as worthless, without dignity. They are stripped of all positive judgements and subjected to harsh conditions while everyone outside this industry profits from their hard work. This does not seem to only affect the women alone but the family as a whole. Networking among relatives is common in immigrant families. Although the garment industry is composed of mainly women, it is not rare to find men working in a Sweatshops. Other family members such as brothers, sisters and daughters may work together all at once. The struggle to provide a family’s basic needs may cause family turmoil. The film Real Women Have Curves demonstrate how women in sweatshops can be affected psychologically and emotionally. Fashion can demean women. In this first clip we see the typical working conditions of a small sweatshop L.A. The second clip shows America Ferrera and her sister trying to negotitiate with the owners of the garments business so that the workers are paid an advance in order to pay their bills. Workers are not often paid on time and since there is no legal documentation that protects their labor rights, nothing can be done for them.
1. What other ways can the fashion industry exploit and disempower women in the U.S?
2. We have discussed racialization within the fashion industry. Do you believe this can be a reason behind the majority of sweatshop workers to be minorities?
3. Comparing the clips from Real Women Have Curves and Made in L.A., did you notice any similarities in the way these women carry themselves in society?