The extent of the fashion industry’s power to impact a large crowd is crystal clear. For those who are aware of this significant power, it is just a matter of courage and determination to use it to their advantage. Those who take action to change, such as fashion activists, have been and will continue, standing up for what they believe in. In the first article of this series, we examined how fashion activists have impacted a wide audience in feminism, LGBTQ+, and body positivity. In this article, we are taking a dip into the influence of fashion activists in politics, racism, and sustainability.
Dressing up to express a political opinion is not new. Politics and fashion have always been intertwined. During the French Revolution, supporters of the revolution wore red, blue, and white cockades; in 2019, The House Democratic Women’s Working Group wore all white. “I wore all-white today to honor the women who paved the path before me and for all the women yet to come. From suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mothers of the movement.” said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Party and the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district in a tweet.
Whether it is subtle like the cockades in the French Revolution or more overt like Katy Perry’s pro-Obama Dress, there is no doubt that clothes can have a strong influence on politics. One of the most influential people in the industry, Marc Jacobs, created a line for Hillary Clinton in 2016. For the elections in 2020, a wide range of fashion brands like LVMH and Off-White to Banana Republic have called their audience to vote. Supermodels, who usually do not publicly declare their political opinions, have also used their popularity to ask their followers to vote. The result? 2020 Elections saw a record voter turnout.
Fashion played a big role in women’s quest to obtain equal rights. In a very powerful and authentic article, Gina Martin talks about how wearing skirts prompted gender roles and inequalities. We were required to wear skirts as school uniforms from a young age, which was considered to limit our freedom of movement. Throughout history, skirts have changed their shape and style according to society’s view on women. In Victorian times, men considered ankles to be seductive, so the skirt length had to be below the ankle. Fast forward to the 60s, fashion activists revolutionized this standard by introducing the mini skirt. Women took control of their skirt length and demanded their right to be free in their clothing choices. Yet still, women are told to ‘behave’, sit properly, act modestly, or else we may be subject to consequences.
Sexual assault, however, doesn’t have anything to do with modesty or short skirts. It is an act of perversion and disrespect. Fashion is one of the industries where sexual assault is very common. Mostly the models are the victims of these assaults, but they are not the only ones. Although the #MeToo movement has changed the world immensely, sexual assault is still a horrible reality in the industry. Social media accounts like @shitmodelmgmt regularly share memes and Instagram DMs (short for Direct Message) that reveal how terrible the industry is for somewhat ‘normalizing’ sexual assault. Many are scared to talk about it as they are afraid, threatened, or ashamed.
The most recent case of high-profile assault accusations is Alexander Wang. The party-boy of the fashion industry is being heavily accused of sexually assaulting models he has worked with. Diet Prada, one of the most influential social media fashion activist accounts, has published Instagram posts, stories, and DMs from models who claim to have been assaulted by Wang. Models exposed the designer for drugging them and forcing them to perform sexual acts. Thanks to activists like Diet Prada, the news spread quickly, and many have cancelled their partnerships with Alexander Wang, proving the power of speaking up.
The fashion industry has long been criticized for being discriminative. Minorities, like people of colour, have been disadvantaged as a result of prejudice.
Racism is not a newfangled thing, but last year was a milestone in terms of raising awareness of the problem. When George Floyd was brutally murdered by a racist police officer, people all over the world rushed to the streets to protest. The protest was supported by a large crowd on social media as well. As of today, there are over 27 million posts with #blacklivesmatter. In addition to this, Black-owned brands have been promoted by activists on social media, in an attempt to support them financially and socially.
Many brands from Ganni to Marques Almedia have released statements, announced donations, or created merch with slogans. However, some backfired. Celine’s post on Instagram saying, “Celine stands against all forms of discrimination, oppression, and racism. Tomorrow’s world will not exist without equality for all #BlackLivesMatter” is one of them. When Hollywood stylist Borden left a comment in the post, accusing the brand of not dressing Black celebrities unless their stylist is White, the response was huge.
Fashion industry watchdog Diet Prada relentlessly exposed prominent figures and brands with a racist past, unbothered by the power they held in the industry. The account’s owners received threats, and they were sued by some. Their biggest feud was probably with Stefano Gabbana of Dolce & Gabbana in 2018 when the brand released a campaign video for their fashion show in Shanghai in which models are eating pizza with chopsticks. When they received criticism about it being racist, Stefano Gabbana direct messaged Diet Prada, saying that Chinese people are stupid. Diet Prada published screenshots of the conversation on their Instagram page, which then led to many Chinese ambassadors cancelling their contracts with Dolce & Gabbana.
Recently, Diet Prada called out Michel Gaubert, the most popular DJ in the fashion industry, for being an Asian hater. He posted a video from a party where the guests are holding cut-out slant-eyed masks, mocking Chinese people by shouting ‘Wuhan girls, woohoo’. Although it is more subtle, the rate of racism towards Asian people is undeniable. #StopAsianHate increased awareness of this problem as a global issue. Phillip Lim supported the movement in a genuine post, stating that watching viral videos of attacks and crimes targeting Asian businesses had been emotionally difficult for him. Bernadette Belle Ong, who represented Singapore in Miss Universe, wore a statement dress that had ‘Stop Asian Hate’ written across the back for the national costume part of the competition.
These call-outs have encouraged many to speak up. One big example is when Condé Nast employees spoke up against Anna Wintour’s discriminatory behaviour. Anna Wintour, so-called the Nuclear Wintour of fashion media, released an apology statement following the claims.
Although fashion sells a magical world, it is also a great reflection of the real world and all its positive and negative aspects. Similarly, fashion activists do not only encourage the industry to become more inclusive and moral, but also they also influence the world to be better. Our duty is to use our voice to support our truth and speak up. Because as demonstrated in this article, it does work.