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Ivy Park: A Strange Kind of Feminism

Source: The Daily Mail
Source: The Daily Mail

Why I’m taking issue with Beyoncé’s Ivy Park

Following the launch of Ivy Park in March 2016, Beyoncé stated that the ethos of the sportswear line was to “support and inspire women”. Queen B fans across the country went into meltdown over this must-have range. However, something that bothers me about Ivy Park’s ethos of inspiring women is that in reality, these ‘women’ being referred to are a very select group – they are women who are able to spend up to a £100 on a pair of black leggings in Topshop.

Allegations that the range was being produced in sweatshop conditions in Sri Lanka quickly came to the eye of the media. The Sun, and various other publications, claimed that workers were earning just 44p per hour, well over half the average wage of Sri Lankan workers as a whole. A worker interviewed claimed that she was sat at a sewing machine for nearly ten hours a day, and being forced to work overtime. MAS Holdings, the company responsible for the production of Ivy Park, are technically not doing anything wrong in that they are paying workers the legal minimum wage. However, campaigners have pointed out that the 18,500 rupees that Ivy Park workers are earning on average each month falls at well below the living wage of 48,608. Hmm.

Of course, Ivy Park’s PR team was quick to deny these claims, giving a very generic come-back about the way that the brand has “a rigorous ethical trading programme”. Whilst insisting they had standards the factories had to comply to, they failed to mention anything about the actual human-being workers in question. I decided to have a look at MAS Holding’s website to see if they had any systems in place to improve quality of life for their workers. It was a similar kind of generic waffle, and under the ‘social sustainability’ page of their website, they simply state how “passionate” they are about education, without giving any tangible fact about how they really make a difference to the lives of their workers.

Now, do not get me wrong, I am by no means suggesting that Beyoncé is the only celebrity to produce a branded clothing range in such conditions. Indeed, the sad fact is that these conditions described are probably some of the better situations, for workers are at least being paid a legal minimum wage. What bothers me, however, is the contradiction that seems to appear between the branding and the principles. Ivy Park preaches about supporting and inspiring women, yet the real women behind the clothes, the ones who make them, are working in conditions which resemble those of a sweatshop. How can the brand claim to ‘empower’ women, when the women it employs are barely being paid enough to earn a living?

It seems to me that if the ethos behind the brand is to support real women, then this should extent to the women producing the clothing in Sri Lanka, too. According to The Independent, Mr McQuad, from Anti-Slavery International stated that, whilst MAS Holdings does at least strive to offer jobs to women, “The sort of thing Beyoncé is doing has the potential to provide decent work for a lot of people but there is often a significant gap between the potential and the actuality”. He said that paying a living wage is vital for real empowerment of the workers, which Ivy Park is certainly not yet doing.

In my mind, if the branding behind Ivy Park is truly about supporting women (and by women, I don’t just mean the kind who go to all of Beyonce’s concerts and constantly comment ‘Slay girl’ on all of her Instagram posts), then the company should put measures in place to actively help its workers break out of poverty. Given that the average price of an item from the range will cost in excess of £30, if there was a real commitment to the kind of feminism this brand claims to stand for, some of the profits could be used in Sri Lanka to put things like education schemes in place for women to enable them to gain some real kind of benefit. Why isn’t some of the money from the brand being donated to women’s rights charities such as Womankind Worldwide, or used to make real steps towards ‘empowering’ women such as running schemes like teaching women to read? I may be wrong, but at the moment there seems to be no evidence of such a scheme happening, which to me seems like an odd kind of contradiction between the ethos of the brand and the reality.

There is no denying that Beyoncé is some kind of demi-Goddess. She is incredible, and without a doubt seriously talented. But what I find odd is this bizarre infallible status she has acquired; even writing this article, I worry I am going to offend her army of fans. It seems that we are far too willing to simply accept the kind of feminism regarding empowerment that Ivy Park claims to uphold, without actually thinking about a depth behind the words that are used. Just because it’s Beyoncé, it must be right. To me, this feminism is flawed in that it applies to just a very select group of women, the kind who can pop to Topshop and wear her clothes to the gym. Yes, it might make them feel and look great, but what about the women working for 44p an hour in Sri Lanka? Could it even be said that by paying them so little, Beyoncé and Ivy Park are actually exploiting women in the third world for their own financial gain? As they sew the labels on to the various leggings and sports bras that pipe on about this ‘empowerment’, the reality is that this branding is speaking to women thousands of miles away.

So really, who runs the world? Um, Beyoncé’s PR team?