ANOTHER Topshop blunder has made headlines this week. The high-street clothing chain, run by Philip Green, has upset Penguin books, clothing fans and feminists alike. The store had partnered with Penguin Random House to promote a book that would resonate with customers: A pop-up for the essay collection, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies) to raise money and awareness for the UN charity Girl Up. The stand had been erected at the flagship store on Oxford Street, London when things took a curious turn. Green encountered it during an early morning store walk-through. The women from Penguin were told to take a walk for 20 mins, returning to find the display torn down and the partnership pulled on the day it was due to launch.

Hours later Topshop issued a mealy-mouthed response on their egregiously pink Twitter feed to say the decision had been taken from a creative and production standpoint (answers on a postcard) and that a donation of £25,000 had been made to Girl Up. They claimed the events in no way reflected the company’s position on feminism and equality. I trust Philip Green is ignorant of the old adage, “actions speak louder than words”. This action is loud and I don’t think he’ll like what it says about him or his company.

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To tear down a display and then make a consolatory donation to charity feels icky and dirty. Rather like the idea of paying indulgences to the church to lessen the penance for sin. If you try to use money as a substitute backbone or as a means of appeasing the people you’ve trampled on, it’s clear what kind of company or person you are. Writing that fat check might assuage your guilt, but it’s an easy and insincere gesture when your bank account won’t miss it.

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Yes, it’s shocking. Yes, it’s disappointing. Yes, it’s a massive f–you to the company’s customer base which primarily caters to teenage girls. But this is also a reminder of why we should be deeply suspicious of corporations putting their zeitgeist-flavoured social responsibility hat on. While the pop-up might have connected a wide range or women and girls to feminists thought and would have raised money for a noble cause, it’s important to see this partnership for what it is to understand why it went so wrong. This is commodity feminism: A facsimile of feminism with a list of caveats, which allows companies to appropriate the women’s movement as a cynical means of making more money. Sex sells, sure, but so does social responsibility. If they can commodify caring about a cause, can put it on pin badges, totes or t-shirts, they can make money off of the genuine cares of women while doing nothing of substance for the cause.

Back in 2016, Topshop sold Ivy Park activewear, a brand created by Beyonce to empower women in sport. The problem: An investigation claimed these leggings were being made using sweatshop labour provided by Sri-Lankan women working for just 44p an hour. The claims came directly from the women employed to sew the clothes who said they could not afford to live on their basic wage. Beyonce’s company rigorously deny the investigation’s findings. Topshop still stocks the line.

Corporate Social Responsibility reeks of disingenuousness when the “empowerment” offered is attached to a brand, is offered as something that can be ‘bought’ and is primarily concerned with making a profit. If your feminism is more concerned with who profits financially, rather than the lasting benefit women the movement is for, it’s not up to much. It’s capitalism with a cheap feminist disguise. We all need to see this for what it is: having the audacity to take on a cause only for as long as it can be profitable.

The National:

Topshop is by no means alone here. Feminism sells right now, but the monetisation of feminism by major brands is irrevocably cynical. Adopting the characteristics of a social movement that has momentum as a means of lifting your business or enhancing your brand is not what this movement is for. We’re so used to seeing these mass-produced products masquerading as socially credible items that we rarely think what’s going on behind it. That white T-shirt emblazoned with “feminist” was made by a woman who couldn’t afford it if she saved her entire month’s wages. Brands manipulate us. They encourage us to spend our money as a false means of emancipation. They make us desire their things, and so our democratic power is conceptualised as spending power.

Commodity feminism is hypocritical. With glossy editorials, it papers over the myriad ways capitalism bolsters the gendered labour divide and disproportionately harms the women from poorer countries that are so often involved in the supply chain, making the products we buy for little remuneration. The women involved have little-to-no social power or status, yet they give their bodies, their time, their skills, their health to fatten the bank accounts of powerful men on the other side of the world. In fact, you don’t even have to look that far. Working-class women’s undervalued labour has long been the foundation brands have built their empire on.

There’s lots to think about here. You can be angry at Topshop for letting its young customers down. You can be mad at them for throwing the authors, their customers, Penguin and even the UN under the bus with their thoughtless actions. But, I reckon it’s more meaningful in these latter days of capitalism to get to know your brands and to ask questions about what they do and do not do. Figure out who they really are, who they really support, and if they come up short, stop giving them your money.