Fashion and political activism often go together. However, their connection may not always be straightforward.
Fashion can be used as a form of activism, from designers and consumers using their clothes to spread a message, to brands manufacturing clothes with socially conscious intentions.
Fashion has long been used to make political statements, with brands like Balenciaga and Stella McCartney often featuring pieces that bring attention to specific social issues or promote global environmental concerns.
For instance, Stella McCartney x The Beatles’ recent ‘All Together Now’ collection showcased iconic visuals from Yellow Submarine while championing animal rights – an especially pertinent issue given the current climate of mistreatment of animals within fashion industry.
Korina Emmerich, a New York-based designer, uses her work to actively challenge systems of oppression and systemic racism. Her designs incorporate indigenous patterns and traditional fabrics but are produced on a small-scale, sustainable basis – avoiding the large-scale industrialized fashion systems which can exploit vulnerable communities.
Furthermore, with increased awareness of fast-fashion’s negative impacts on the environment, it has become more challenging for fashion companies to conceal their mistreatment of garment workers. This has sparked an uptick in activist groups, labour unions, and policymakers working together to reform the industry and enhance working conditions for all.
Model Alliance is one such group, working to reform how models are paid and treated in an effort to address unethical management tactics common in the industry. Their initiative protects both models’ rights as well as fashion houses’, while guaranteeing everyone receives dignity and respect.
As a result, more and more designers are taking political stands with their collections. From Virgil Abloh at Off-White to Marine Serre and Kevin Germanier at Dior, designers are taking up the mantle of fighting social injustice through their clothing designs and collections.
This movement marks an important turning point in the history of activism. It marks a shift away from traditional white-dominated activism to one with greater diversity.
By the 1970s, Black Panthers had become a powerful presence in American politics and their signature uniform of leather jackets and berets was an effective way for activists to make their point visible. Though founded by men, women adopted this look as an expression of power; many donned natural afros to show solidarity with black communities while challenging long-held beauty standards that had been dictated by white ideals for too long.
This shift was enabled by a cultural resurgence of feminism and non-white designers’ access to freedom to speak their minds in an industry once dominated by white men. Coupled with millennials’ awareness of their own purchasing power as an important tool for social and political activism, there has been an uptick in political activism within fashion itself.