The rise of trendy activism
The past several fashion seasons have been defined by a different kind of statement. Juxtaposed against the usual suspects—stunning shoes, trendy handbags, stylish accessories—have been the sociocultural statements. Political persuasions embroidered across shirts, societal shifts lining handbags, protest mantras adorning sweaters. Designers are using their clothing as a billboard to syndicate opinions about everything from politics to societal issues to polarizing movements.
In many cases, fashion could be a genuine platform for protest. It is an artist’s form of expression, after all. And art, in most forms, conveys an artists’ views or experiences. It is certainly not groundbreaking for an artist to employ their medium in this way. It puts their money with their mouth is, using their masterpiece as a vessel.
Graphic tees and runway backdrops show that these designers are standing for what they believe in. Designers are declaring their alliance to political sides, nonprofit organizations, and trending topics. And perhaps this is, as aforementioned, a sincere use of their platform.
But trendy activism has some implications worth exploring
Is it all authentic?
Perhaps trendy activism shows what’s trending, and, well, fashion is known to follow the trends. This is inherently problematic in the conversation pertaining to authenticity. As noble as the surface statement may seem, I guess you have to wonder if designers are making a political statement or a marketing ploy. Hopping on bandwagon issues is an easy way to become a part of the conversation while also boosting sales.
And even this facet may not be all bad, depending on what side of the issue you fall on. Trendy social issues are the fastest way to affect change (which, depending on the issues, has its up and downsides). The wildfire that a viral trend can spark can reach an unprecedented pace far exceeding the picket signs of protestor’s past.
Karl Lagerfeld turned his Chanel’s Spring ’15 presentation into a protest after the show. During the finale, the models paraded out with protest signs stating “history is her history”, “make fashion not war,” “ladies first” and “women’s rights are alright”.
In an interview with Fashionista, Lagerfeld stated “My mother was very much a feminist and I thought it was something right for the moment. I couldn’t care less if people are for or against. It’s my idea. I like the idea of feminism being something light-hearted, not a truck driver for the feminist movement.”
Lagerfeld also once said “[Coco Chanel] was never ugly enough to be a feminist,” so there are obviously some incongruencies there.
In response to backlash for his assumed appropriation of issues, Lagerfeld claimed that he wanted to the models to have a voice. Wanting the models to have a voice by superimposing your own tastes on a fabricated rally is contradictory. Taking direction on how to perform a protest is simply not a model standing for what she believes in.
Many followers lack awareness of what they are in fact representing
It seems when fashion hops on board, the conversation lasts a bit longer than, say the fleeting trending topics on facebook or twitter. This is great being that our younger generation has been admonished for our preference to “like” a post to send thoughts and prayers.
But long after trending topics expire, t-shirts remain on racks and in closets, guaranteeing the wearer to be an Instagrammable sensation. And what better reward in the social media era. You don’t have to agree nor even know what you’re representing in order to warrant the likes that may come along with it.
Perhaps though, there is a positive layer to the uninformed participating in a movement they are not aware of. T-shirts like this are meant to incite a conversation. And I would imagine that wearing one would cause the wearer to try to educate themselves on the depth and context of that which they are wearing. If for no other reason, it is humiliating for someone to prompt conversation courtesy of your own outfit, to receive the response, “well, I don’t really know. I just thought it was cute.”
Perhaps in this inquest to appear fashionable and informed, an educated opinion can arise.
It is the best way to shine a light on perhaps under-resourced groups
These brands are titans of influence, often well-connected to the actual effectors of change. For instance, Gucci openly aligned itself with anti-gun movements in response to Florida’s recent school shooting. Balenciaga joined the fight against food poverty. And Versace has openly denounced fur.
These brands bring a cause directly into the public’s focus by making it stylish. Fashion trends, especially as told on the runways of fashion’s biggest brands, are on a fast track to ubiquity. These brands dress society’s biggest influencers and celebrities. This reach only further aligns fans of these figureheads to the cause plastered on a t-shirt.
And this trickle-down economics guarantees these messages appear on affordable, fast-fashion racks within weeks.
Yes, giving certain issues a larger platform can expedite awareness and potentially even change. But is it not in the exact same breath somewhat undermining, to the people actually suffering these issues? To turn their life into a marketing ploy. To talk about human trafficking–but “now at 20% off!” “Paired with these distressed jeans!”
So how does one avoid trendy activism for trend’s sake
I am not one for politics myself. But I hate fake. Being quite apolitical myself, you’ll never see me donning the latest designer slogan. Because I know I can’t account for it.
The proclamation these tees make should mirror accountability. Both the creator and the wearer are accountable parties. A “save our earth” tee having never recycled anything in life, equality messages without ever voting or donating or marching. This is synonymous to social media empathy. (“Like for thoughts and prayers!”) A marketing move hopping on the latest trending bandwagon in the name of sales and PR, not change.
Being conscious requires conscience. Trend trances can sometimes cloud our judgment. We don’t mean any harm perhaps. We’ve just seen that shirt or this phrase everywhere. And it would be so cute with this bag or those sneakers or these jeans. But proclamation without information may toe the line of political appropriation.
What do you think? Is trendy activism positive or negative?
Lauren is based in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to writing here on Pursuit of Daydreams, Lauren’s daydreams consist of all forms of design: Graphic, Fashion, Web, Interior, Art. On any given day, she can be found preoccupied with at least one of the above. She is happiest with a bowl of ice cream in hand.