As Ivanka Trump shutters her clothing line and other fast-fashion labels report plummeting sales, it would appear that ‘wallet activism’ is working.
When news broke last week that Ivanka Trump’s women’s fashion line was shutting down, the Internet was buzzing with theories about why. Sales were reportedly strong throughout the election year, but once her father took office, they plummeted. Fast Company reported,
“Over the last year, the brand’s online sales through Amazon, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Zappos dropped by nearly 55 percent, according to Rakuten Intelligence, which gathers email receipts from 5.5 million U.S. customers.”
A widespread boycott launched by Grab Your Wallet at the beginning of 2017 likely played a role. The San Francisco-based campaign “urged people to avoid buying all Trump-related products in protest to ethical violations.”
But then something else happened.
Investigative reports found that Chinese laborers making Ivanka-branded products were paid less than minimum wage, forced to work excessively long hours to meet production targets, given only two days off per month, and did not have enough money to pay for bus fares home to see their children. These findings reflected poorly on Ivanka herself, a woman who claimed to represent working mothers and had launched a campaign called #WomenWhoWork. As FastCo put it,
“There is no way to tell whether the boycott had a direct impact on the brand’s bottom line. It is equally possible that the people were just not interested in the clothes — which some customers complained were ugly, badly designed, and poorly made. [The reports of factory abuse] obviously raised ethical quandaries, but it also suggested a low-quality manufacturing process.”
Another Fast Company article by Elizabeth Segran suggests, however, that there is a deeper current of change running through the American mindset. There is a growing distaste among mainstream consumers for unethical fashion. The source of clothing now matters more to us than ever before, just as we’ve begun asking where our coffee, chocolate, vegetables, and meat come from — questions that a decade or two ago would not have been standard inquiries.
Ivanka’s is not the only brand to suffer lately. H&M has reported an enormous drop in sales and, as of last March, $4.3 billion of unsold inventory. Other fast fashion giants are feeling it, too:
“Zara’s parent company Inditex is seeing sluggish sales this year, driving its shares to a three-year low, while Forever 21 reported a $40 million loss at the end of 2017.”
Could it be that shoppers are fed up with buying shady, shoddy crap? Even though a pair of jeans may cost only $20 and a T-shirt $8, we’re no longer quite as comfortable handing over the money. Somehow it feels dirty and unsettling. We’ve seen the heartbreaking pictures of garment workers crushed by the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and their wailing families. We’ve heard about the countless cotton farmer suicides in India. We know about the colossal landfill waste that comes from buying too much ‘disposable’ clothing. We know too much now to be complacent.
Meanwhile, new and old fashion businesses alike are focused on creating transparent supply chains, or at least the impression of them. It is standard practice now to talk about factory conditions, environmental stewardship, textile production methods, etc. in the FAQ section of fashion websites. It’s not always convincing — the ‘greenspeak’ often makes me roll my eyes — but these companies are clearly trying to portray a newly desirable image of eco-friendliness.
This is living proof of effective ‘wallet activism’. If consumer distress about these environmental and ethical conditions can drive the changes we’re seeing so far, then just think how much further it can go with yet more protest. In other words, don’t give up! Stand up for your principles, for the rights of others to fair wages and safe conditions, and for the wellbeing of the planet, and know that you’re not alone. These little efforts add up over time and do change the course of fashion, just as they have over the past few years.