The Representation of the Feminist Agenda in Fashion

The Representation of the Feminist Agenda in Fashion

From statement tees and varsity badges to anti-Trump slogans, 2017’s runways have demanded our attention with garments being nothing short of political. Amongst others, the feminist agenda has been at the forefront of fashion, both in high fashion and on the high street. In between the hot pink ‘GIRL POWER’ motifs, it’s easy to become critical, almost cynical, of the influx of femme fashion, as it’s clear that the impact on the feminist movement is a lot less auspicious than brands portray.

Paired with a navy embellished tulle skirt and retailing at £490, Dior showcased its iconic ‘WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS’ T-shirt during their spring show last year, the slogan taken from the title of a book by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This coveted piece arguably then paved the way for other brands to monetise the feminist movement. With feminism being such an integral part of people’s lives today, it has to be debated whether the engines behind the mass manufacturing of these clothes are seriously challenging the system through fashion, or solely using the feminist rhetoric to create a false brand image that consumers will feel more drawn to invest in.

True to form, Dior announced that a percentage of proceeds from the sale of each shirt will benefit The Clara Lionel Foundation, Rihanna’s non-profit organization funding education, health and emergency response programs around the world. Similarly, high street retailer Monki recently collaborated with Lunette, selling an exclusive menstrual cup amongst a collection of limited edition t-shirts, accessories and underwear, tag lining “PUSSY POWER” as part of their work to end stigmas surrounding periods. Managing Director Lea Rytz Goldman stated that Female empowerment is at the core of everything we do at Monki.” For this campaign, Monki and Lunette have donated 5000 menstrual cups to The Cup Foundation, a non-profit organisation with a mission to educate and empower girls living in challenging environments in Kenya, by giving them life skills, training, and access to menstrual cups. However, it seems that popular high street brands profiting from feminist statement fashion whilst actively trying to confront and transform women’s rights are few and far between. So whilst companies fling the phrase ‘girl squad’ on their designs and are given a pat on the back for progressiveness, genuine issues of inequality remain untouched.

Admittedly, some of these garments are quirky and fun; they just aren’t conducive to the movement. In fact, I think that the impact of this rapid influx has been damaging. Feminism has been trivialised into something fleeting and disposable; nothing more than a trend that will be irrelevant by next year, instead of an incremental working process that requires regular in-depth discussion.

Annoyingly, the majority of the advertisements, billboards and posters high street brands release score an overwhelming zero when it comes to showing ‘what a feminist looks like’. Intersectionality (the experience of differing social identities) is largely ignored. Unsurprisingly from big names such as Boohoo and Missguided, we’re bombarded with white, slender models with flowing honey blonde hair and styled in ultra mini skirts endorsing these campaigns *pretends to be shocked*. Representing young women as being multi-faceted is extremely important so while companies may be selling one size fits all clothing they need to draw the line at trying to sell a one size fits all kind of feminist.  

As these items are usually targeted at a specific demographic, there is still an onus on the customer. In an age where we pride ourselves on being socially conscious, instead of simply buying this kind of clothing as an attempt to stay on trend, ask yourself if your purchase will actually facilitate the movement or how you, individually, can make a difference, before you become a poster for feminism. There are brands such as Birdsong whose products are exclusively made by women’s groups, embodying their ‘no sweatshops, no photoshop’ motto, and to whom 80 percent of profits are filtered back to provide an example that promoting equality whilst actively making a difference is possible.

So for now, let’s commend those companies who are using their sales to show commitment to women, and side-eye those that can offer nothing but a clever catchphrase.


Written by Deborah Banjo


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