It’s Black Friday, which means most people—even those of us who said they wouldn’t—are probably out there or online, buying items for half of their normal price. Items they don’t necessarily need; things like TVs, other electronics, and clothes, a lot of clothes. That’s why it’s crucial we start thinking and talking more about the people who make those items we buy for less; the people who earn the lowest wages. It’s about time we start tackling this problem. That’s what the Lowest Wage Challenge aims to do, starting this December, through its campaign #LowestWageChallenge. What is the idea behind it, and, more importantly, could it actually change the prevalent unfairness of the fashion industry?
The campaign’s concept is simple. All it is asking is that brands be more transparent and share their lowest wages. Why? According to the Lowest Wage Challenge’s website, it is estimated that only 2 per cent of the people who make our clothing earn a living wage. This means that almost everyone who made the clothes we’re planning on buying today is unable to meet their most basic needs. The campaign aims to show buyers the hard reality of a worker’s life, “Because you deserve to know whether or not the people who made the clothes on your body have been paid enough to meet their basic needs and live a life of dignity.” We, as consumers, have the power to buy and consume, but also the power to change the working conditions and the salaries of whoever makes our clothes.
If we demand that the brands we buy from start publishing their lowest wages, would that transparency eventually result in making those brands more accountable for the work environments they foster? That’s what the campaign is hoping for. In other words, the people behind the #LowestWageChallenge truly believe this could change the fashion industry forever.
The movement was initially started by two ethical fashion brands, ABLE and Nisolo, which noticed that although average wages are often published by companies and brands as a way to show some transparency to customers, the lowest wages paid are not. The campaign believes that the lowest wage is a much better indication of how a company cares for its most vulnerable employees.
That’s why the #LowestWageChallenge was launched in November, to ask us, the consumers, to pick our favourite brands, go on their social media pages, preferably on Instagram, select the brand’s latest post, and comment: “@brand What’s your lowest wage? #LowestWageChallenge.” But the fashion industry has a long way to go sustainability-wise as well as when it comes to its workers’ rights. Can another one of many challenges actually make a change?
In theory, and only if mass action is taken, this could improve workers’ rights while also revolutionising the way operations are conducted. Some brands, probably not the biggest names in the fashion industry, could also benefit from the challenge by showing how they value the people within their supply chains. To push the challenge forward, the #LowestWageChallenge is inviting participants to nominate the brands they want to ‘call out’ on its website. Among the most nominated so far are brands such as Madewell with 174 votes, Target with 77 votes, Zara with 75 votes, and others. The campaign will announce committed brands on 5 December.
When and if these wages are revealed by the nominated brands, they will then have to be verified by a third-party reporting tool, called ACCOUNTABLE, that will ensure the expectations of conscious consumers are met. The tool will audit manufacturers by focusing on equality, safety and wages, with a particular emphasis on women in the workplace. As ACCOUNTABLE states on its website, “Our dream is that in 10 years or sooner, publishing wages will be as common as a nutritional facts label on your food.”
While the concept as a whole sounds promising, the campaign has yet to break the internet. If a considerable number of people were participating in the challenge, then maybe it could be considered a ‘threat’ to today’s fashion industry. Right now, however, The #LowestWageChallenge doesn’t appear to be the magic solution to the unfairness of the fashion industry, but rather just another short-lived challenge to add to the list.
A new hashtag has popped up in our timelines, and of course, you guessed it, Screen Shot can’t help but dissect it. The hashtag #Instagramtransparency is being used under posts that show a different side to the dreamy beaches, toned abs, sponsored products, and #couplegoals we see across our explore pages.
This new trend is about showing the downs as well as the ups in our lives across the social media channel, and to start an honest conversation about our less glamourous lives off screen. Whether that’s talking about mental health, the reality behind landing some cool jobs for Nike or Adidas, as well as the things ‘no body sees’. #Instagramtransparency is the embodiment of trying to show that what you see on Instagram is not completely genuine—something we all know by now, yet often struggle to digest when the success of others is thrown in our face on an hourly basis.
At the moment, the hashtag has 656 posts after @toriwest sparked the movement earlier this month, with freelancers like @sararradin sharing their thoughts on the subject. The contents across the hashtag don’t all follow one aesthetic, but all sport a confessional description of people’s struggles. In a world where teenagers can’t remember their lives before documenting every social gathering, and where millennials have been able to create jobs from social media, Instagram is essential. We can joke about memes, we can even kid about how much we all wake up to an algorithm but over 1 billion of us log into the app and share much of our lives with strangers, who most of the time believe they know us by what we give them.
The idea behind #Instragramtransparency is to start a conversation beyond the optics—to talk about the hustle and the struggle that lays behind each glistening post. But what happens if even what we’re sharing under the transparency ethos isn’t the whole truth either? Validating #Instagramtransparency also comes into the equation here. To play the devil’s advocate, Instagram has shown us, and through this hashtag too, that the platform equals to a form of scripted reality, so what is it that we’re trying to show through this woke hashtag and how exactly is it a step away from a curated feed?
Regardless of the message you are trying to share through #Instagramtransparency, there’s a reason why influencers are starting to use it. The hashtag humanises the people behind accounts and makes the experience relatable—it’s a way of showing the other side of the story. But I question the smokes and mirrors the hashtag comes with. What feels like a great intention to display authenticity also seems tainted with what Instagram is continuously obsessed with: self-promotion and marketing.
How do we show authenticity to a following that forgets even our username from time to time? Authenticity itself seems to have become marketing jargon when in reality, by definition, it is the opposite of complexity, it is to simply be yourself without filtering the content you post to connect with a certain demographic or awareness trend that month. #Instagramtransparency is a great way to start talking about what happens behind closed doors but we also need to check why we’re now speaking out about the topics we ourselves have biasedly chosen to hide in the first place.
#Instagramtransparency appears to be a way of whitewashing the pretty locations with deeper meaning, but if we are trying to have a go at how fake we can all be sometimes, we also need to step away from sharing only what’s palatable first. If we’re trying to show the plethora of journeys people have to go through to get to where they are and to what they have, it needs to be by a wide host of people, not just influencers. If not, the conversation on Instagram isn’t moving forward, it’s just at standstill.