Why are people in the Australian fashion industry paid less?

When you start lower, how do you catch up?

From a distance, the fashion industry looks glamorous – fashion shows, industry events, always wearing editorial outfits in the office. Having an organized wardrobe that is justified as an important part of your job sounds like a dream come true.

I hate to burst your bubble (it hurts me too), but despite the glistening surface of this desirable industry, all is not so pretty. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, workers in the fashion industry are paid less than the average Australian, who receives a salary of around $92,000.

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Of course, it depends on the role, but many fashion careers fall short of the average salary across the country. A fashion designer earns between $60,000 and $80,000, while a stylist earns an average of $58,000 and a merchandiser earns $53,000.

The gender pay gap

Dr Rebecca Van Amber, a senior lecturer at the RMIT School of Fashion and Textiles, explains that one of the main reasons is the gender pay gap.

“Throughout Australia, women still don’t earn as much as men. This gets worse in the fashion industry in that, especially in Australia, it’s predominantly women who work,” explains- According to the Australian Fashion Council, 77% of the workforce in the fashion industry are women, compared to a national average of 47%.

According to the Agency for Gender Equality in the Workplace, women are paid less than men due to a number of contributing factors. These include discrimination in hiring, prejudice and a lack of flexibility in the workplace to allow parents to attend to their responsibilities. So it makes sense that if women, who are paid less, make up an overwhelming majority of the fashion workforce, the average salary is lowered across the board.

Another factor that impacts women’s wages when seeking fashion jobs is our lack of wage bargaining. Dr. Van Amber points out that statistically, men are more likely to negotiate a higher salary. “Women just accept things a little more at face value, and we’re not taught or trained to try to negotiate a higher salary. When you start lower, how do you catch up?

The fashion industry is a “boys club”

Ben Stranieri, professor of fashion sustainability at the RMIT School of Vocational Design and Social Context, tells me that men and women view the fashion industry very differently when it comes to opportunities for growth.

“A report by McKinsey and Co revealed… that men saw [the fashion industry] as fun, with great opportunities and lots of growth,” Stranieri tells me. “The women were the exact opposite. They said [the fashion industry is] ‘dominated by men, [with] no opportunities and limited leeway to improve their path’.

Stranieri says the upper world of fashion is a “boys club” because there’s a tendency to hand over leadership positions to men. “When you have sex in charge, they think it’s okay,” says Stranieri. “Unless they become proactive in promoting gender equality or gender bias, you have this pay disparity.”

One of the reasons why women find it so difficult to advance in their careers in the industry is the lack of flexibility in roles, especially in leadership positions. When women take on leadership positions in industry, they often do not have the working environment they need to take on responsibilities such as caring for their children. Taking a break from the labor market for reasons such as maternity leave can negatively impact their ability to progress in their careers and benefit from other opportunities.

“It’s not that women are less competent than men. Traditionally, some of these roles have been completely closed to women for many years,” says Dr. Van Amber. She tells me that while those in management positions tend to be paid the same as other careers in Australia, entry-level positions really suffer. This includes work in shop floor retail stores, manufacturing, and in junior corporate positions.

The fashion industry is in high demand and women have it tough. But these are not the only reasons why people in the industry are paid less. As for the other explanation? The fashion industry is a hot property.

“There is such a demand for people working in fashion. There’s not a lot of incentive for brands to pay people a lot because people are willing to accept lower pay to get a foot in the door,” says Dr. Van Amber.

Fashion is an unforgiving line of work – it’s really hard to cut through all the noise and rise to the top. “It’s even more difficult for small brands. They tend not to be paid that high because sales are directly tied to salaries to some degree,” Stranieri points out.

Like all careers, your salary will depend on your position in the industry. Higher positions align with the average Australian salary, however, entry-level positions do not experience similar paychecks. It all comes down to the fact that fashion is a desirable industry and a “lucky to be here” mentality.

“I think it’s a pretty toxic idea that people should feel privileged to work in a workplace…and should therefore be willing to sacrifice a living wage just to be able to say they work in fashion,” says Dr. Van Amber.

Stranieri adds that many don’t work in fashion for the money. “You get into it because there’s a real desire to be creative or to be around creative people,” Stranieri tells me. “To some extent, money is secondary.”

For those entering the fashion world, Dr. Van Amber recommends researching what salary you qualify for. “There are some really good websites that make this easy,” says Dr. Van Amber. “You can do a little research into the companies, how they are rated in terms of work and what some of the salaries are.”

Learn more about how to succeed in the fashion industry here.

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