Feminism & Fashion: Are we leaning in or selling out?

“We should all be Feminists.” I mean. Obviously right? It’s no longer
just a statement but a battle cry. Though this time it’s not on a
protest sign or a bumper sticker. It’s a t-shirt. Oh, and it comes with a
£500 price tag. Yeah, sure, that seems reasonable. Dior’s t-shirt
tribute to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is hardly the first time a luxury
brand has dipped it’s toe in to commodity activism. Hell, even Chanel’s
faux protests from S/S 15 led by Cara Delevingne marching with girls in
rainbow tweeds and twinsets wasn’t the first outing of fashion using
feminism as a statement. And look, we get it. Everyone’s got something
to sell. But should feminism be held to a higher standard than a
marketing ploy?

I mean if we’re going for the short/easy/convenient answer, then it’s
a straight up no. Fashion has always been political – it’s a reflection
of the cultural zeitgeist. It just happens to be that marketing
feminism for fashion is currently a lot more overt. The F word isn’t so
dirty any more. Instead over the last few years we’ve seen everything
from bloody tampon earrings (Meadham Kirchoff SS15) to Prabal Gurung’s
SS17 collection that cites Gloria Steinem and Tracey Emin as key
influences. And it’s not just on the catwalks either. Feminism has
become as much a part of branding for street style darlings and indie
designers alike.

New York Fashion Week’s streets were rife with slogan t-shirts. “We
will not be silenced.” “Feminist with a bite” and a notable homage to
Otherwild’s notorious 1972 “The Future is Female”. These t-shirts closed
out Prabal Gurung’s latest show before being spotted on some of the
fashion world’s most prominent street style stars including the likes of
BryanBoy, Aimee Song and Tina Craig. Bonus points for a portion of the
profits going to Planned Parenthood. Over in London, artist Laurie Lee
creates hand-painted leather jacket’s that couldn’t be clearer with
their messaging. “So Not Yours.” “Girl Almighty.” Sure, there’s an
element of marketing, but it’s also providing women with a voice – and
at the very least is a conversation starter.

Meanwhile, award winning Scottish designer Isolated Heroes is
preparing a collection of sequins and embroidery embracing girl power
and subversive femininity. King Sophie’s World creates rainbow sequinned
cunts and reclaims insults like slut and nasty woman for her designs
while US illustrator Sugarbone uses unabashed sexuality in her pins and
patches, embracing a sex positive, pro-feminism stance. “He said make me
a sandwich, so I made him a sub.” It’s completely shameless, tongue in
cheek fanciful and fun. Indie designers are using humour and digital
platforms to engage in conversations about what shapes modern feminism,
more oft than not being more inclusive in terms of gender identity, body
shape and race in who they market to and how they present their brand.
But are conversations really enough? ChouChou recently launched a
specially designed “Sisterhood” with a portion of the profits going to
Woman Kind Worldwide while The Outrage donated all of the profits from
their Pantsuit Nation to Planned Parenthood after last year’s U.S
election. Meanwhile you’ve got Forever 21 selling “Support your Local
Girl Club” bomber jackets and H&M stocking tops printed with
“Property of No One.” The sentiment is fine and well, but doesn’t sit
well with their culture of mass factory produced fashion.

Designers aren’t obliged to donate to charities, as much as we’re not
obliged to wear our convictions on our chests. Feminism in fashion is
definitely having a moment – which is part of a more culturally wide
discussion as we move towards becoming more politically engaged and
active. Buy the t-shirt, wear the patch, but also donate, protest and
continue to fight like a girl.

Originally for Fashion Fix Daily

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