Teen and adolescent girls have long used fashion as a social weapon. In 1944, Eleanor Estes wrote “The Hundred Dresses,” a book about a Polish girl who is made fun of for wearing the same shabby dress to school each day. The film “Mean Girls” in 2004 focused on fashion-conscious cliques among high-school teens. But today, guidance counselors and psychologists say, fashion bullying is reaching a new level of intensity as more designers launch collections targeted at kids.
As a result, an increasing number of school and community programs focused on girl-on-girl bullying are addressing peer pressure and the sizable role clothing plays in girls’ identity.
I am beside myself with dismay. I was bullied in school, I think mostly for being the fattest girl in my school but it was clothes too. And back then, we didn’t have the focus on brands that we do today. Where do we draw the line, where is our responsibility as producers, marketers -and parents? Tragically, I don’t think we can expect children to do anything other than follow our own example. I am always upset by fashion police who criticize what people wear -and women are the worst about it. If women are catty about each other’s appearances, our children will be no less. You reap what you sow.
I want you all to be successful but at what price? Is this the inevitable consequence in our increasingly brand infatuated economy? And if it’s not fashion bullying, there’s still the matter of child labor among big brands. You’ve got to admit it’s beyond ironic that we have nine year olds sewing kid’s clothes for GapKids. I hypothesize that there’s a natural order to things, that things get out of control once they get beyond a certain size. Many well meaning brands have been WRAP certified yet they still end up in hot water. Their very size makes compliance impossible to monitor. I don’t believe bigger is better.
I don’t know that we can come up with an answer but I feel culpable if I say nothing. I feel that as a group, it is incumbent upon us to do something however small. In a post I never published, I proposed that we support rehabilitation centers for children rescued from sewing factories but I could only get a fix on two. One was RugMark which has rescued more than 3,000 children from weaving looms. They operate 13 schools, using sales proceeds and donations toward rehabilitation, daycare, literacy, formal schooling and vocational training. Another organization is Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or the Save Childhood Movement. Incredibly enough, people try to steal the children from the safe havens and put them back to work!
I don’t know what you will do if anything. Be it child labor or brand bullying, there’s a difference between progress and decay. Unfortunately, at the advent of either, you don’t know which you have. Progress (profit) is often decay and what appears as decay is often progress but you only see it in hindsight.
I can’t make you assume the collective responsibility of our failures as an industry, I only know that I will not continue to do nothing or say nothing. I encourage you to donate to Save Childhood or to Rug Mark to support the rehabilitation of child laborers. In addition to my own contribution, for every donation of $250 or more that you donate, I’ll give a free copy of my book either to you or the institution of your choice. Donate $500 and I’ll throw in an hour of consulting. Either way, it’d be great if between us all, we could select a charity we can all support and have an effect. If we do and say nothing, the public can rightly continue to level its criticisms at us.