- Lifestyle & Sports
- 20 Dec 18
Art, activism and fashion have always gone hand-in-hand and during2018, the link between fashion and politics was more evident than ever.
Thanks to increasing awareness around issues of gender equality, sexual violence and discrimination, feminism is thankfully being embraced by more and more people - but what does it mean for fashion to be feminist? Is the feminist label enough?
This was the question that surrounded he realise of a now iconic t-shirt from Dior. The tee was emblazoned with the phrase 'We Should All Be Feminists'- taken from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's feminist book of the same title. Albeit a huge hit, the t-shirt raised some issues about what happens when feminism is co-opted by exclusive consumer culture, and used to sell products.
The cotton T-shirt retailed for 560 euro and was only available in limited sizes, and so a garment supposedly promoting equality ironically excluded many people. And although the pricey tee was made in partnership with Rihanna's non-profit Clara Lionel Foundation, Dior never disclosed the percentage the charity would receive.
From high-end to high-street, Topshop also hopped on the bandwagon, releasing a 'Females of the Future' T-shirt. The tee was well received at a much more affordable price, but with restricted small to large sizing, the top again excluded plus-size women, restricting supposedly feminist fashion to women with ideal body types. Furthermore, in October 2018 Topshop owner Philip Green became one of the most recent high-profile names associated with the #MeToo movement. Following years of cover-ups, Green was accused of sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying by MP Peter Hain. What does is mean for a company to support gendered abuse and harassment, but to financially benefit from feminist slogans?
It's clear that feminism has become an all-too-easy way for unethical companies to benefit from a movement without actively supporting it ð but there are Irish designers who are putting their money where their mouth is.
Irish designer Natalie B. Colemanıs latest line features the slogans 'Guaranteed to Bleed' and 'Sisters', as well as her limited-edition 'Support Your Local Girl Gang' t-shirt. The 30 euro oversized tee has been made in support of the'Because I'm A Girl Fund, with 5 euro from each purchase going directly to the cause. The initiative focuses on girlsı education, child marriage and gender-based violence. Coleman encourages people to 'wear this with pride!', a true sign of a passionate designer.
Graphic tees and fashion pieces emblazoned with slogans and sayings have always been in style, but in 2018, the political climate meant that every fashion statement was being examine and analysed. And like everything else this year, the messages being conveyed through clothing were often controversial.
The most infamous example came (of course) from the White House, when Melania Trump donned a khaki green jacket while traveling to a children's detention centre in Texas. The problem? The 35 euro jacket from Zara's Spring Summer 2016 collection had writing scrawled on the back: "I really donıt care, do u?"
Given the circumstances, the sartorial choice was deemed by many to be deeply insensitive. While Melania Trump initially denied that the jacketıs writing meant anything, she later told ABC News that the message 'was for the people and for the'leftwing' media who are criticising me and I want to show them that I donıt care." She continued, "I would prefer that they would focus on what I do and my initiatives than what I wear" - without acknowledging the inherent contradiction here. Melania Trump does indeed understand the power of fashion to make a political splash - even if she pretends not to.
But itıs not just political figures who are using their fashion choices to make statements about society. International K-Pop superstars BTS faced a backlash when member Jimin donned a shirt depicting the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The controversy resulted in a scheduled BTS appearance on the Japanese station TV Asashi being cancelled.
The t-shirt was an ourhistory design, bearing the words 'patriotism', 'our history' and 'liberation', along with an image of the cloud that towered over Hiroshima after the first nuclear attack in history, which took place on August 6, 1945. Many interpreted the shirt as celebrating the deaths of the 226,000 people who died in Hiroshima, but the CEO of ourhistory defended his design. Lee Kwang Jae said the shirt was designed to 'show the truth and the process of how the liberation of Korea came about when Japan surrendered after the atomic bombs."
Kwang Jae had hoped the shirt would start conversations, and it did - albeit for all the wrong reasons.
On May 26 2018 the people of Ireland voted for choice, respect and compassion. In the run up to the referendum, Yes voters united with one cause in mind, to repeal the 8th Amendment. In doing this, they looked to fashion as a form of expression. Many Irish designers introduced pro-choice pieces, showing their support.
A 'Repeal' jumper became an essential part of a pro-choice wardrobe; a uniform and visible sign of solidarity and support for women. Created by the Repeal Project with profits going towards the Abortion Rights Campaign, the simple and effective monochrome design was constantly selling out - a sign of activists' and supporters' unwavering support for women.
Irish designers were also inspired to support the campaign through their work, as Dublin's own Aisling Duffy released her own Repeal t-shirts, set on her trademark (and utterly adorable) "What Is Being Irish?" print as a background for the slogan tee. Duffy donated a portion of each sale to Together For Yes.
Designer Repealist, aka Shubhangi Karmaka, also released pro-choice jewellery. "The most popular pieces were the sterling silver 'Repeal' hoop earrings and the gold 'Repeal' necklace. Repealist is an avid fundraiser with over 10,000 raised for various campaigns in recent years, including the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland.
Lastly, Black and Beech released a 'Yes' necklace as part of their Repeal range, as worn by the likes of Laura Whitmore, Aisling Bea and Marian Keyes. The 'Obstreperous' necklace became the latest addition to the range as a post-referendum piece. It represents the unwavering voice of women. Black and Beech continue to create pieces in the fight for a feminist future.
If anyone had ever doubted the power of fashion to influence public and political discourse, Irish designers and women proved them wrong. We wore our empathy and activism with pride, and it never looked so good.
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