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The global pandemic which surfaced in 2020 has brought to light one of Lenin’s popular quote. In its paraphrased form, Lenin mentioned that there are decades when nothing significant happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.
Asides the global pandemic, several protests like the Black Lives Matter which was spurred by the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the gunning down of Jacob Blake, the meaning of Lenin’s quote was perfectly highlighted.
During this period, borders were shut, people lost their jobs, and several industries kissed the dust. Also, the most anticipated U.S. presidential election is around the corner.
How does this relate to fashion?
Before COVID-19 surfaced, fashion was one of the highest employers of labor in the world, with around $2.5 trillion brands having above 1.8 million individuals in their employ for the U.S. alone. According to some projections, 10% of the yearly worldwide carbon discharged is caused by the Fashion industry.
Fashion affects the society in multifaceted ways, including defying its patterns. And people still ask if politics can be found in fashion. And the expected reply is, it has always been in Fashion.
During the medieval period, sumptuary laws barred peasants from the extravagant political clothing. The sansculottes were instructed to don brawny trousers to show their working-class era. Just before our generation, apparels were used by the Black Panthers to grab power and defy it. They wore leather coats and small hats to ordination as an independent police force. In the movie, Greed is Good, pouf skirts and power suits were used to water down the Reaganite chauvinism.
Andrew Bolton’s view on Fashion and Politics
The Wendy Yu Head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute mentioned that Fashion helps us understand this generation properly. He further cited that fashion has been used to show loyal proclivities and complicated issues associated with sexuality, class, gender and race.
Bolton also mentioned that environmental worries and social awareness in fashion are on the increase. He stated how designers globally are infusing politics into all levels of their brands. He ended by saying that the selling point for these designers was “making a change”, and not just designing political clothing.
Different Fashion Maestros air their views on politics and fashion
One of the progenitors for the new world order in Fashion, Marine Serre, mentioned that each decision a company makes affects the world. She further mentioned that everything that involves fashion is politics for her.
On his end, Virgil Abloh the artistic director of Louis Vuitton and CEO of Off-White mentioned that people now understand that Politics is not like conventionalities that compare two strongholds like the Democrats and Republicans, amongst other comparisons. He said that everyone is in the system, and we live and breathe in politics.
Virgil noted that the politics of your wears could mean anything like donations, supporting new businesses. And he stated that being one-sided is an element of politics.
He also cited that fashion politics could denote implementing the PayUp supplication initiated by REMAKE since brands were reportedly snubbing factories after COVID-19. And this is disadvantageous for helpless garment employees. This implies that any apparel can be worn to any event not minding if it doesn’t fit. With this, Politics of fashion exists whether recognized or not.
For Samuel Ross who is notable for his British menswear line “A Cold Wall” which was among the finalists for the coveted LVMH award in 2018, he mentioned that his work is embroiled in everything related to justice and ethnicity.
Samuel mentioned that the texture and perspective of his wears aim to showcase a lifestyle most times ignored by fashion. Samuel established that growing up in the Brutalist architecture of London council estates, made him recognize the nobility of the middle-class and the poor people residing in the tower blocks.
Serre has a different agenda. Currently, a minimum of 50% of her runway stockpile is strictly for upcycling. For instance, she created a sophisticated apparel from Holland Vintage cardigans. Currently, her present collection aims to clothe different communities, portraying them as phoenixes emerging unscathed from a burning universe.
The crescent logo in Serre’s brand means unity and hope, and it appeared in Bey’s “Black is King”. Serre mentioned that the symbol is old, and it can be found anywhere in the world. She further cited that anyone can find their identity in the logo and adopt it because it is free.
Serre’s crescent logo is a repartee on patriotism if you look it at from that angle. The meaning of the logo is quite vague and not as clear as Martine Rose’s Promising Britain Tees. The design on the tee is a cartoon clown encircled by E.U. stars. This wear was included in the 2020 spring collection when the U.K. was close to Brexit. Rose mentioned that fashion devoid of belief and dispute is simply a commodity.
Maria Grazia Chiuri agrees with Rose’s view, and this was evident during her first show at Dior 2016. Some tees which had the caption “We Should All Be Feminists” (Chimamanda Ngozi Aichie’s essay title) were displayed on the runways and the models had looks that showed the concept of archaic feminism of inventor, Christian Dior’s “The New Look.”
Chiuri explained that she and the fashion’s brand decision to infuse feminist concepts was their way of preserving Christian Dior’s heritage. And she mentioned that being feminist should be conventional by now.
Multiculturalism, Feminism and Class and Eco-awareness
Popular designers cum stylists like Chiuri, Rose, Serre and Ross are contributing to vital debates. However, for Virgilda Romero Vasquez, the convergence of politics and fashion has some dire consequences.
Romero Vasquez, who came to the U.S. from Guatemala about 19 years back, is a mom to four children. She started work at the garment workshops in L.A., and she currently earns $300 weekly. On the 29th of July, 2020, Romero was anxious to hear the outcome of the Labor committee’s poll of the California Assembly on SB-1399. The poll was concerning a bill poised to ditch the piece-rate system of payment which allows state factories to tailors below the minimum wage.
At that time, Romero Vasquez was just recovering from COVID-19 related symptoms, and she was working in a small building with no air. She mentioned it was very hot to put a mask on. She revealed that 7 out of 40 individuals employed got the virus. While six recovered, one died.
The SB 1399 also aims to hold brands accountable for substandard factories conditions. And looking at Vasquez’s case, there was a need for revaluation. Vasquez’s former factory produced apparels for a popular brand that had famous ambassadors. Vasquez said the workspace was full of rats who usually soiled the clothes with their excretions. She mentioned that she didn’t know why people get the idea of producing clean things in a dirty environment.
The concept of labor enslavement in popular fashion brands has always been an evaded topic. However, with the emergence of coronavirus in garment factories in L.A., the concept of labor has been given more attention because it affects everything.
The creative director and co-founder of Eco-Age, a sustainability consult, mentioned that it was expected, further citing that someone made all the clothes we’re wearing. And the only way to know how and who is to understand the latest model of political fashion.
Questions relating to labor are germane irrespective of who produced any cloth you can think of. And you can field the question by acknowledging the customary craftsmanship and partnering with Cote D’Ivoire’s Uniwax to produce artistic revisionisms of political fashion.
With this, accountability becomes more feasible because it unifies the entire advocacy at all cycles of production in fashion. It also gives room for cultural commandeering, which reminds us of how Serre was challenged by Celine Semaan (activist) because she used Islamic representations on face coverings. And it callouts initiatives like Aurora James’ 15 percent pledge which encourages retailers to increase their inventory from businesses owned by Black people.
Law Roach, popular stylist mentioned that talks were not enough. He mentioned that these days, all that was needed to silence the uprising was some marketing moves on Instagram, and everyone would move on. He made this statement during the BLM protests earlier June, which he revealed hurt him deeply.
Roach who styles popular stars like Celine Dion and Zendaya mentioned that influencers and celebrities would have to be accountable. He revealed that when they post pictures of themselves on social media, people will be poised to ask various questions like their involvement, the maker of the shirt amongst others.
In Apryl Williams’ view, she mentioned that uploading the selfies would regularize extremist beliefs. The deputy professor at the University of Michigan where she teaches communication, and the Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society fellow mentioned that her major worry is people give more power to it. And she mentioned that if you are not having a conversation with the issues, then it is just a performance.
For Naomi Klein, she mentioned that the merging of politics and performance presents a potential danger if a cause is taken in fashion. Another danger is politics turns fashionable and is dependent on the development of fashion trends. She then asked what becomes of an issue if it becomes obsolete.
Klein cited that it cannot be avoided because fashion craves innovation and movements want time. Then, she revealed how workers have been demanding their rights for several decades, and how they have stuck to the development of fashion supply chains. And since then, the primary demand which is the freehold of unionism which has not transformed.
Klein said that workers are in the best position to speak for themselves irrespective of what they are going through. And the best way to hear them out is to compel brands to hear them out.
Fashion’s Anticipated Perspective Post COVID-19
Firth once mentioned that the story of your wardrobe could be told if you have an idea of who produces your clothes. All managers of big fashion firms with stockholders and partners do not have direct control over their operations like a designer/stylist who has her brand, which is fairly big. According to Rachel Corney, it is easier for the designer to structure her brand with her values.
Corney, who is a loyalist of the New York Fashion landscape, has lent her voice on ethnicity and age, and she has strived to ensure her brand is sustainable. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer, Corney sent an exhaustive letter of solidarity for the movement. She made a notable point that she gives all her staff the liberty to participate in politics. Then, she mentioned that other companies need to emulate this habit.
She further mentioned that she didn’t know that reduction of waste is political. However, since her brand’s identity was on the label, it meant she had to be more responsible than before.
Corney’s fashion products are in above 100 shops globally with the brand’s expansion perceived as gradual. Corney is focused on being customer-centric instead of chasing the designer-superstar reputation, and several upcoming designers are following her footsteps.
During the BLM protests, some notable New York’s designers like Jonathan Cohen and Eckhaus Latta donated to the BLM movements. Even though their nuclei have been affected, this won’t be the first time New York designers will collaborate to rend support. It happened once in the 1990 recession when they raised funds in the war against AIDS.
Some new brands, like Lidia May a luxury products brand in Bangladesh, have tailored their business to donate to various noble causes. The co-founders, Rasheed Khan and May Yang, explained it was created basically for the local creator community. Yang mentioned that they collaborated with a proletarian organization in Dhaka to empower women to learn embroidery and lacework on popular brand shoulder bags and clutches.
Khan revealed that he was on the brand’s advisory board and suggested that since several companies get cheap labor in Dhaka, it would be more beneficial if they invested in the community preferably.
The Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights director, Dorothee Baumann mentioned that bigger brands were already imbibing the mindset. She gave an example of Decathlon, a French firm that collaborates with suppliers in the long term to create business models that favors both the workers and the brands.
Dorothee called such companies “Savvy”, further mentioning that they are observant and she advised them to associate with the current trends spearheaded by young customers.
Fashion expert, Dana Thomas mentioned in her book, Fashionopolis (2019), that customers are more aware of the planet’s health. She further stated that the average American purchased 68 apparels, and this was possible because brands have been able to meet up with the increasing demand. However, the big question remained that how can all the products be exhausted?
The answer to this big question is thrift shopping. Several millennial are using applications like Depop that enables them thrift shop from closets of their fellows. According to a 2019 report from McKinsey, it is predicted that the thrift market will in 10 years be bigger than fast fashion. And this will reduce the millions of clothes that are dumped in dunghills yearly.
Also, upcycling would come in handy, which is using fibers from old fabrics to generate new ones, according to Marine Serre.
In this period, when COVID-19 hit, it feels weird writing about overconsumption and overproduction in fashion because things in the fashion world were brought to a standstill. However, the worldwide fashion wheel will spin again, and then, the industry will choose between massive productions like before or a more controlled one.
Several designers like Tory Burch, Erdem Moralioglu and Dries Van Noten openly opposed the massive production of fashion apparels when things normalize, and they suggested on the production of fewer collections for each specific season.
This implies rarer discounts, and we will not forget to save for stunning clothes. These days, designers are expected to produce apparels with a longer life span, and we would see less of clothes that defeats the conventional idea of completely erasing off old collections with new ones.
The Gucci runway has already imbibed this emerging model. For instance, consider Alessandro Michele, who combines various concepts and ideas that looks weird to many people. The Creative Director of Balenciaga, Demna Gvasalia, mentioned that the assignment of fashion was to make its wearer happy irrespective of their ethnicity, gender, size or age.
In Klein’s words, she is optimistic that the dark times will pass and she hopes that designers would put originality, quality and beauty into consideration, and do away with what doesn’t matter.
Before the Berlin wall fell, Francis Fukuyama released an article with the title “The End of History.” In this article, Fukuyama predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and its communism, which challenged Western capitalism for international supremacy. He asserted that the prominent global political dialogues had been resolved and what was left was an improvement in politics.
Even though Fukuyama’s opinion was opposed and labelled as parochial, his exposition reveals why fashion in the last 30 years has evolved through diverse ideas and concepts at a very fast rate. Marc Jacobs opposed Fukuyama mentioning that if we feel like there’s nothing left to do, why do we strive to do something fresh?
One thing to expect is the creative spark fueled by diversity that defies this rule. When ideas and concepts seem to be exhausted, people who have fresh ideas will fight their way to the global stage.
This movement in motion is obvious in the disorderly impact of gender dissidence on fashion. It is also obvious in what Olivier Rousteing had to say when he spoke about his project “Frenchness”.
Rousteing mentioned how some people have adopted some aesthetics and labelled it as strictly theirs, thereby giving the impression to other people not to join. And he cited how this was common in Paris, and he questioned the possibility of the idea remaining in use for the next 50 years, or if it would be ditched.
In July 2020, Rousteing celebrated Balmain’s 75th anniversary by displaying his couture collection on a vessel moving through the Seine. When paraphrasing what his presentation meant, Rousteing mentioned that he was the first Black pioneer of one of the earliest fashion houses in France.
The necessity of increased diversity in Fashion- Michelle Obama’s exemplary lifestyle in inspiring women with her fashion sense.
In this story, the majority of the creative and stylists who were interviewed are Black, even Law Roach. Each author has their variety of fashion politics and fashion.
Starting with Kerby Jean-Raymond, the founder of Pyer Moss who took the industry by storm by launching his 2016 spring show with a video clip of 12-minutes that talked about Police brutality. Also, Shayne Oliver, founder of Hood By Air is a party to this, Telfar Clemens, Amaka Osakwe, Grace Wales Bonner, and Tyler Mitchell who signed a deal with UTA.
Since the BLM protests, there have been clamors for increased diversity in fashion. The reason why the above celebrities were mentioned is to signify that, the inclusion is an opportunity rather than an obligation.
Abloh mentioned that stories and ideas could only multiply when there are more Black creators. He further explained why he dedicated his resources to train Black students at various top fashion schools. He cited that the fashion industry needs to seek ways to train people in the community, which is often challenging because most internships are free, and people hire based on familiarity.
Abloh further stated that it would be challenging if brands do not make their workplace favorable for diverse ethnicities.
Increased diversity in the fashion world has been proved to be beneficial, and it is vital to know what it cannot solve, which is the disorder of the supply chain.
Over the years, economic justice has rivalled with the right for factory garment employees to make money. And from the outlook of things, it is like saying Americans who don’t earn much are not deserving of nice apparels.
The poor in America need the money more than they need cheap and expendable goods. And they belong to the same category as garment workers, particularly due to the effect of the pandemic on the economy. Usually, when there is inequality, the problem and solution is money, anything asides that is equivalent to hubbub.
How fashion plays a role in birthing new movements
According to Martine Rose, COV1D-19 has launched us into the future as we cut ties with history when the pandemic started. She mentioned that people should expect innovations coming in, and she made reference to movements that happened during difficult times like the Vietnam War and World War 1.
However, the founder of A-COLD-WALL, Samuel Ross, was more apprehensive. He mentioned that COVID-19 resuscitated conversations that looked buried. He mentioned that he felt this pandemic gave us ample chance to make inquiries, and he felt he wasn’t sure we would have a thorough social reset.
He cited that the system was more lucid, and it presented a perfect time as a designer to contribute your quota to the evolution of fashion in a more considerate direction. Ross opined that an election or even a generation could not complete the work alone. However, he felt it was best to start working now, and fashion would come in handy in showing people what was likely to occur next.
According to Rousteing, he said embracing change was the best way to create new history.