Marketing & PR

Feminism as a Marketing tool: A Blessing or a Curse?

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‘GIRLPOWER’ or ‘the future is female’; these phrases on T-Shirts and notebooks don’t surprise us nowadays. With an increasing amount of attention towards feminism, companies have not been missing out on the trend. Feminism is often used as a marketing tool; which raises the question of if companies can claim a position in feminism even if they don’t take action in the fight for equality. Are these “feminism goods” adding something to the world other than money for large companies?

You might wonder, if companies want to release a collection with a feministic theme, why shouldn’t they? However, the situation is a bit more complex. There has been criticism in multiple ways, some of which I will explain in this article.

Hypocrisy

First of all, some companies releasing feminism-themed collections have been criticized for their hypocrisy. It is no surprise that a big part of the fashion industry doesn’t meet the standards of fair payment. Companies selling products other than clothing can often be added to this group.

When these companies release products with images or quotes related to feminism, they promote themselves as supportive of this movement. And this is where the hypocrisy makes its entrance – many companies have been alleged guilty of making money from feminism all while underpaying their workers, which often includes a lot of young women or girls.

This has in recent years become an issue for many clothing brands such as Ivy Park, Boohoo, and Pretty Little Thing. The main issue these companies face when portraying themselves as feminist brands is the bad working conditions of their own (mostly female) workers. Clothing for Beyoncé’s brand Ivy Park ‘empowering women’ has allegedly been made by underpaid workers who claimed they couldn’t speak up. Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing have even released clothing especially for Women’s day that have been made by underpaid workers. There have been complaints about the horrendous working conditions. These companies are selling a message of empowering women while exploiting their female workers. Even though the missions of the brands have most often been well received, the message would have meant a lot more if the products have not been made by women under bad working conditions.

Ironically, this issue about hypocrisy even occurs when clothes are made for charity. There have been several problems with T-Shirts containing a feministic message, raising money for charity, that turned out to have been made by (young) women in bad working conditions. The most obvious example is when Spice Girls released T-Shirts raising money for ‘gender justice’ that were made by underpaid workers.

This only shows that the marketing goal and reputation are often more prioritized than the feministic values themselves. Feministic products still have a long way to go when it comes down to the current hypocrisy often occurring. 

Taking away thunder

Apart from the hypocrisy, there has also been some backlash about big companies taking on arguably undeserved credit for their position in feminism.

When big clothing brands like Boohoo release a feministic-themed collection, they often receive a lot of attention and praise. This can take away attention from other (often smaller) companies that do put in the work.

For a brand to operate in a way that supports women, it is almost impossible to work as fast as the bigger companies do. Therefore they are mostly smaller and more expensive. When a company like Boohoo takes on a feministic attitude, they are praised for a fight that has really been worked on by other companies.

Making money from a fight

Is it really feminism when money is a bigger goal than creating a more equal world? 

Then there is the issue of money being made from a fight for equality. Katie Martell, a marketing consultant and feminist, once said: “If you’re not ready to hold your company up to the standards of feminism, don’t exploit feminism in your marketing.” Evidently, it has not always been received with pleasure that big companies use a fight for women’s rights to generate profit. It is almost profane for a big movement against injustice such as feminism to be taken over by a company to use as a marketing tool. It raises the question of whether an addition to a battle of injustice means anything if it is born out of commercialization. Is it really feminism when money is a bigger goal than creating a more equal world? 

Changing the image of feminism

Even though there is some relevant criticism, companies do contribute to the cause of feminism in a way. The term ‘feminism’ has not always been received as a positive term. And today still, the term faces some issues in its preconception. When popular brands take on the concept of feminism and create positively received products, they can add some positivity to the concept. Big brands often operate problematically, but they are able to do something not everybody else has the power to do: Making feminism more trendy.

Feminism as a trend might sound a bit peculiar, but feminism as something obscure might be even more harmful.

When feminism becomes a hype, you can argue that a lot of money meant to go towards the movement ends up in the wrong places. But without this positive attention, the battle might be stuck with a small group of people and never become widespread among a bigger part of society. And maybe those people reached by companies such as Boohoo and IvyPark are more needed than we think. Feminism as a trend might sound a bit peculiar, but feminism as something obscure might be even more harmful.

A marketing tool contributing to society

Feminism shouldn’t just be used as a marketing strategy, it should be embedded in the core values of a company.

The battle for gender equality is one that will certainly not be resolved by fast fashion brands releasing a feminism-related campaign. It is always good to hold companies to a standard when they are trying to claim a position in a movement. However, some fights might be more dependent on marketing strategies from big brands than we think. Companies using their popularity to promote feminism can add something positive too. Hopefully, in the future, feminism can be trendy without hypocrisy. Big brands have a responsibility to match their actions with their feminist collections, they should walk the talk. Feminism shouldn’t just be used as a marketing strategy, it should be embedded in the core values of a company. When those things come together, it is time for us to praise the right brands. 

 

Cover: ya_blue_co via shutterstock

Edited by: Yili Char

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Ninke Boshuizen
Ninke is a 20-year-old Communication Science student living in Amsterdam. She has a big interest in culture, media and politics. As a writer for Medium Magazine she hopes to share some of her thoughts and enthousiasm about these topics with her readers.

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