What does a feminist T-shirt look like?

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What a hoo-hah a simple T-shirt has caused.

First PM David Cameron had to explain himself when he refused to wear the “This is what a feminist looks like,” T-shirt. Did he just think that the loose casual look was not quite his style? Or did he actually disagree with the message?

Then there was the depressing claim that the T-shirts were manufactured in Mauritius by female workers paid 62p/hour for long days and required to live and sleep on-site in cramped conditions. This left everyone involved in the campaign scrabbling around trying to establish exactly what was going on in that factory on the other side of the world? Was it a sweatshop, or not?

The pressure was then on The Fawcett Society – the group that has successfully campaigned for women’s rights and the organisation that commissioned the T-shirts in the first place – and Whistles, who manufactured them. In the middle of all this, UK Elle magazine, promoters of the campaign, found itself in the rather unfamiliar position of being at the centre of a minor political storm.

The Fawcett Society’s latest statement denies the claims, stating that an independent audit of the factory concerned has revealed that it complies with the required standards. If that’s so, it must come as an enormous relief to Whistles, who champion ethical trading and whose CEO is a committed feminist to boot.

But what a mess.

We are in the business of manufacturing at Fashionizer and ethical sourcing and trading is a fundamental part of our business. It’s in our DNA. We therefore feel we have an inkling of what has gone on here.

We wonder if anyone thought to check whether the provenance of these garments was watertight before the unstoppable train of publicity was set in motion? Yes, there is the independent audit, but this was not conducted until October and therefore it looks as though the T-shirts would have already been manufactured by then as they were adorning the torsos of Miliband and Clegg at that point. Someone needed to diarise that…

Perhaps everyone just got a little caught up in the PR opportunities that this campaign could create. If so, we think that’s a crying shame. The main purpose of the Fawcett Society and this campaign is to draw attention to the fact that there is still work to be done in ensuring that women have equal rights, opportunities and pay. For that to be achieved women have to be on the ball in all areas: they have to do their homework, be able to back up their claims, and deliver – some might even say they have to exceed expectations, especially when taking on the political establishment.

Yes, there might have been a whole lot of publicity generated, many people still hold with the view that any publicity is good publicity. It’s also no bad thing that one side-effect has been to draw attention to the plight of some overseas factory workers – we’ve blogged about this before.

Whilst debate about this issue, is still rolling on, what of the campaign message itself? Will anyone remember what ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ actually means? And what that T-shirt was trying to promote? Probably not. And as a company full of women and run by a self-confessed feminist that is one missed opportunity.

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