19:09 / 09 Jan 2021 / features / text: Valeriia Raskolnikova
2020 was the year of unprecedented universal social justice wakefulness. During the past years, excessive socio-political awareness is manifested not only by individuals with strong political stances but also by apolitical people, who rarely publicly engage in such discourses. In the age of a tumulous political climate worldwide, dismantling injustice and spreading the feeling of togetherness are the defining actions to take.
While there are many ways to project one's viewpoint, be it political or personal, fashion is the most immediate mean of proclaiming one's beliefs and aesthetics. The act of wearing a certain piece of clothing on our bodies makes it a part of our identity. Fashion is aslo an impression management tool, and why not use it to make a political statement? A greater number of young people unapologetically engage in political dialogue and express their solidarity with the maltreated. Should the fashion industry, in its turn, project socially awakening messages? As a billion-dollar industry, it definitely has certain responsibility to do so.
After revisiting the personal archive of fashion imagery and digging deeper into the subject of social justice and politics in clothing, I created a list featuring political statements made by 10 labels. They are bound to make you question the status quo. Read on.
Parisian streetwear label with Mediterranian roots, aiming to pay tribute to the international mix of ethnicities found in French capital. The brand was launched by a Greek designer Théodoros Gennitsakis, who believes that Medittaranian and Arabic cultures should not be viewed as "threatening" on the streets of Paris. Moved by his Arab friends' islamophobic malaise in the city, Gennitsakis produced a T-shirt line stating "pressure" in Arabic.
Courtesy of Pressure Paris (pressureparis.com)
"Should the clothing industry project socially awakening messages?"
Loewe x Divine Mini Collection for Pride Month 2020
For last year's Pride Month, Jonathan Anderson decided to honor prominent drag performer and actor Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead). The designer hoped for "a celebration of creative freedom and challenging the world order" by releasing a small collection of three T-shirts and a little cushion tote bag, centered around "the filthiest person alive" saying about Divine. Donations were made to Visual Aids Organization (support system for HIV+ artists) and Baltimore Pride (Black-led LGBTQ+ organization in Divine's hometown).
Loewe x Divine Pride Month Collection 2020. Courtesy of Loewe (loewe.com)
Noah Black Lives Matter T-shirt
Basic tee was released by a former Supreme designer Brendon Babenzian supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Noah donated all the revenues from sales to the Black Lives Matter fundraisings during the period of 2020's protests. The T-shirt's back shows the lyrics from the song "Break Down the Walls" by Youth of Today.
Noah Black Lives Matter T-shirt. Courtesy of Noah (noahny.com)
Botter's Politically Conscious T-shirt
Caribbean couture brand by Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh specializes in addressing social issues like discrimination, segregation, pollution, immigration, and identity. "As designers, we are dreamers, and the power of a dream is that it brings a belief to life. We are standing against racism, ignorance, and lack of empathy", - states Botter's official manifesto. Amid the 2020's Black Lives Matter protests, the brand created a socially conscious T-shirt with "Do You See Us Now?" slogan. All the revenues from sales proceeded to The Conscious Kid's Anti-Racist Children's Book Education Fund (theconsciouskid.org).
Botter politically conscious T-shirt. Courtesy of Botter (botter.world)
"As designers, we are dreamers, and the power of a dream is that it brings a belief to life"
Mowalola Bloody Blazer and Love Nigeria T-shirt
Lagos born London-based designer Mowalola Ogunlesi took the London fashion scene by storm. Born in a Nigerian designer family, Mowalola learned early on the lesson of knowing "who you are" and "where you are from." Mowalola's grandmother and mom created a "proudly Nigerian" womenswear label that anchored her love for the homeland in almost every piece she has produced so far. Most pieces are designed for a fluid representation of the Black male body with powerful political statements not being bereft from the designer's work. SS20 "Coming for Blood" collection comprising of bloody white leather jacket and dress created a media buzz around the designer and Naomi Campbell, who wore the piece to London Fashion Week. "This dress is extremely emotional to me, it screams my lived experience as a black person" - Mowalola's response regarding the accusations of glamourizing the gun crime.
Love Nigeria T-Shirt is another testament to her home country and the continuation of challenging people's minds about the state of diversity in the global fashion scene.
@tabooade down, @altonmason up wearing Mowalola Bloody Jacket via @peoplewearingmowalola
@naomi wearing Mowalola Bloody Dress, @thelifeofdanmno wearing Mowalola Love Nigeria T-shirt via @peoplewearingmowalola
Bootleg Political Brand Hype Peace
London-based political streetwear brand Hype Peace aspires for the empowerment that comes through hyping things like justice, peace, and equality instead of just flaunting brands. Inspired by Supreme and Palace aesthetics, Hype Peace functions solely as political wear and a charity for people in need. Anti-racism, Beirut solidarity, Palestine, and paying homage to the fiercest females are the themes for the brand's T-shirt collections. For a garment's price ranging from 20 to 40 GBP, one can donate to Sharek Youth Forum (Palestinian support and development organization for youth), Lebanese Red Cross, and showcase social consciousness to a broader audience.
Hype Peace Palestine hoodie via @akinoladaviesjr. Hype Peace Immigrant Autre Culture hoodie (source unknown)
Hype Peace Anti-White Supremacist T-shirt via @tatumkarmen
Souvenir Official EUnify Apparel
Berlin-based "opinion wear," as introduced by its creators David Mallon and Filip Berg. Souvenir Official, adorned by many, produces streetwear that spreads urging messages in a time of right-wing populism. When Brexit triggered anxiety and angst feelings among European youth, Souvenir Official took on a responsibility to transmit the emotion of connectedness and togetherness by creating EUnify project in 2017. Their witty yet straightforward plus eye-pleasing designs speak powerfully about the definition of borders, identity, and political peace. Fashion meets activism garments got the likes of Virgil Abloh, Adwoa Aboah and many other fashionistas around the globe.
Courtesy of Souvenir Official (souvenirofficial.com)
Anton Belinskiy: Ukrainian Flags and "Poor but Cool" Collection
Kyiv-based Ukrainian designer that loves to indulge in non-conformist subjects and Ukrainian national symbolics. Despite major social improvements in the course of recent years, Ukraine still struggles with corruption, ineffective Parliament, unstable currency, and the ongoing war. Anton Belinskiy creates clothes to express the spirit of Ukrainian youth and its potency on the global creative scene. He does so in the best traditions of healthy patriotism and pure love for one's homeland. Anton Belinskiy often draws inspiration from banal and sometimes kitschy realities of Ukrainian citizenship. 2017 Spring-Summer season illustrated the Ukrainian passport on tops and hoodies. In 2015, the "Poor but Cool" collection was centered around Kyiv's kids' inventiveness and creativity in times of economic chaos.
Courtesy of Anton Belinskiy (antonbelinskiy.com)
Balenciaga's World Food Program Partnership
In Autumn-Winter 2018 season, Demna Gvasalia cooperated with World Food Program - United Nations agency that provides food aid to food-deprived vulnerable communities worldwide. Balenciaga donated 10% of proceeds from specific WFP items to the agency, continuing with 20% of donations in 2019. According to Kering Report, Balenciaga maintained the cooperation in 2020. While receiving some portions of criticism about its charity merchandise in "the age of attention economy," Demna still succeeded in pointing the hypebeasts' attention towards an international crisis that must be addressed.
Photography by Campbell Addy. Courtesy of I-D Magazine (i-d.vice.com)
Qasimi Don't Shoot T-Shirt
London-based label with Middle Eastern roots founded in 2015. Khalid al-Qasimi - the brand's founder, derived inspiration from architecture, color, military, and messaging. The martial silhouettes, a leitmotif of Qasimi's work, suggest childhood memories of growing up during the Gulf War period, as stated by the label's website. During Khalid al-Qasimi's life and work as a fashion designer, he managed to bring forth powerful political messages where the Middle East met the West (Khalid al-Qasimi passed away in 2019). The designer attempted to make both cultures reevaluate their relationship and educate the European minds about the Middle East region's historical tragedies. A striking example would be the "Don't Shoot" t-shirt, initially presented at Autumn-Winter collection 2017 throughout London Fashion Week. Khalid al-Qasimi made a replica of the tee worn by journalists reporting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in summer 1982.
Photo credit via wonderlandmagazine.com