It’s going to be tough for the Beygency to defend their Queen this time: it’s been revealed that Beyonce’s exercise wear, Ivy Park, is reportedly made off the slave labor of sweatshop workers. The Sri Lankan seamstresses who make Beyonce’s Ivy Park line, which charges between £15 and £160 for an item of clothing, earn a reported £4.30 ($6.18 USD) a day. One seamstress said that she earned $18,500 rupees a month, working five days a week doing nine and three-quarter hour shifts (plus overtime). That’s around half the average wage in Sri Lanka.
So much for Beyonce’s on-brand feminism. Following the release of her new album Lemonade, Beyonce has been touted as the second coming in pop form, with her breathless fans applauding her portrayal of lived experience and black girl magic. Of course, Lemonade can’t be totally discounted as a powerful, political piece of art--it’s one that has spoken to many, and it addressed issues faced by women of color in a way that mainstream pop music rarely does so brazenly. But what we can do is question Beyonce’s intentions. For all her posturing of inclusivity and liberation throughout the visual album, the actual practice of her business seems to tell a much different story.
When Beyonce launched the 228-piece collection, she said (amongst other PR rhetoric) “"I know that when I feel physically strong, I am mentally strong and I wanted to create a brand that made other women feel the same way." Meanwhile, the seamstress mentioned above told the Sun, "When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners.” Beyonce and her machine, it seems, have used feminism as a very powerful branding tool. But that’s all Beyonce’s feminism is: branding.
Exploiting already disenfranchised women for personal wealth while dancing in front of neon signs that read “Feminism” is a contradiction of the most vile kind. Feminism isn’t ruthlessly using women in vulnerable situations for personal gain. Feminism is seeking to raise all women to a place of political, social and economic equality. It seems like Beyonce needs to go back over that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quote she co-opted for “Flawless”.
But Beyonce’s capitalism-above-all-else philosophy is nothing new. While we were told Ivy Park was going to “empower women through sport”, the only thing being empowered was Beyonce’s already fat wallet. The revelation that Ivy Park was made off the broken backs of women should come as no surprise, considering Beyonce is the same woman who gleefully tells us to “bow down bitches”. What it should do is make us once and for all question the veracity of anything, especially epithets about feminism, that comes from the Beyonce camp.
And if we want to talk about “Becky with the good hair”, let’s not worry about the Rachel Roys and Rita Oras, and instead make Becky a symbol of all the women Beyonce has had to exploit in order to build her feminist empire. Let every Becky be a reminder of the faux feminism Beyonce has used to bewitch the masses into believing she stands for something other than dollar bills. Make those Beckys a collective bloodletting for the terrible greed that motivates the Beyonce brand of feminism where “the best revenge is your paper” might as well be “money over bitches”. When life gives you lemons, be like Beyonce, squander your opportunity to enrich your community, make cash money instead.