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Is feminist fashion just another fad?

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From the runway to the high street, it seems feminism has never been so fashionable. ‘Girl power’,‘the future is female’‘girl boss’ - slogans that all find themselves on thousands of t-shirts across the globe, and the causes supported by countless celebs. But, in an industry often criticised for being painfully exclusive and unethical, can fashion and feminism truly go hand in hand?

In the last few years, fashion has increasingly been used as a tool to evoke social and political change - we’ve had the red carpet blackout at the Golden Globes in support of the 'Times Up' movement, Chanel’s SS15 feminist runway show which saw Karl Lagerfeld transform the catwalk into a feminist protest march, and seen several brands collaborate with feminist charities. 

Credit: Olive and Frank

Image courtesy of Bethany Hughes/oliveandfrank.co.uk 

It might be an industry that unapologetically refuses to shy away from cultural change; but as a magnifying glass is held over its ethics and with consumers demanding more transparency into how their clothes are made, could an industry so desperate to be progressive, be held back by its own historic values?

Hannah Rafter, fashion editor at Enty, thinks so:

"There are so many things in the fashion industry that really support feminism, and there are so many things in my opinion that really contradict it and make it an industry that really isn’t fluid and isn’t on point with the political, economic and social values that feminism has", she explains.

“With the sorts of attitudes towards women, and, I hate to sort of speak of him now he’s passed but, Karl Lagerfeld with his famous feminism catwalk - he could not have been more of a contradiction in terms of the message he was trying to portray and then his behaviour and views in the background, you know, some of the things he’s said about female musicians and models, or women in society.

“He has been completely against the views of feminism, so, for him to then bring out a catwalk on it, is a little confusing to me."

Watch the full Chanel show below:

Since the likes of Cara Delevingne and Kendall Jenner were sent down the designer's feminist runway,  megaphones and protest signs in hand, it seems as though the lines between cashing-in on a trend and genuinely making a political statement are becoming even more blurred.

New York Fashion Week 2017 saw only seven out of 60 major fashion shows opting to incorporate politics into their clothes, design, or muse. Last year, the number rose to around 25.

But, Lagerfeld is far from the only person to receive backlash from a campaign with seemingly good intentions.

“The same example can be given with Whistles, and the what a feminist looks like’ campaign. Their t-shirt had campaign models such as Ed Miliband and David Cameron who have not always supported the feminist movement", Hannah explains.

In 2014, high-street retailer, Whistlesreceived criticism following its ‘What a feminist looks like’ t-shirt campaign, after an investigation by The Mail on Sunday revealed the £45 t-shirts were made in sweatshops by women earning just 62 pence an hour.

“You know, I’m a big fan of Jane Shepherdson, and she was CEO at the time, she came out and said ‘I didn’t know anything about that’ and in my opinion, know about it.

“If you are doing something that has so much charity, political, social issues tied to it, if you are going to put yourself out as a brand to do all those things - you have to be so squeaky clean in making sure that everything filters down into the organisation"

According to Fashion United, 75 per cent of garment workers in sweat-shops are women, with some earning as little as 1 US cent per hour.

“It has to be in every part of the organisation, not just the consumer-facing ones because people will find out about it - and Whistles is a great example of that", says Hannah.

While some feminist fashion campaigns are accused of being contradictory, on the other side, are the people who feel empowered by wearing feminist slogan t-shirts.

Fashion and lifestyle blogger, Lauren Rosenbaum, uses fashion and slogan t-shirts as a way of expressing that she's a feminist, and through fashion, has found an outlet to publicise her views.

Image courtesy of Lauren Rosenbaum/loulabellerose.co.uk

“I’m a very quiet person, I’m really shy and when the topic comes up I do tend to freak out a little bit and just go quiet because I kind of think ‘oh I don’t know enough about feminism' and I don’t want to get any statistics wrong. I don’t want to get facts wrong and start turning people the other way against feminism. I find that t-shirts are kind of nice middle ground", explains Lauren.

"I’m not ashamed of being a feminist and I want people to know. I like to wear the t-shirts so people know and they ask questions and you can open up a bit more of a healthy discussion than if I was to go barging in on a conversation with some facts that are wrong.”

The idea of using fashion to empower women is certainly not new - but in the current political climate, Lauren says the platform for using fashion to get people to pay attention to the feminist movement is only getting bigger.

Image courtesy of Lauren Rosenbaum/loulabellerose.co.uk

"Fashion was something that was kind of dictated for women for such a long time, like, back in the Victorian era you weren’t allowed to show your ankles and things like that, so I think that using fashion to push the feminist message is actually quite ground-breaking."

Following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations, last year, attendees to the annual Golden Globes graced the red carpet sporting an all-black dress code in support of the Times Up movement.

The fashion-focused protest saw the likes of actresses Meryl Streep and Saoirse Ronan and singer Lady Gaga support the movement, which has so far raised over $24 million - making it the most successful GofundMe page in history.

Image courtesy of Lauren Rosenbaum/loulabellerose.co.uk

"I think that kind of flipping that on its head is actually really helpful- especially at such a big event like the Golden Globes. Everybody is interested in the fashion at these events - you go online afterwards and you see, like, a million articles on what Meryl Streep wore or whatever- it’s crazy", says Lauren.

“I think that us, starting to take that back and saying ‘actually we’re going to use our clothes to portray an important message’ is a really good thing and I think it’ll definitely help with the feminist movement.”

One designer who is using her own feminism in her work is Chloe Torpey, the owner of independent fashion label Olive and Frankwho says she wants to empower people through her collections

Image courtesy of Bethany Hughes/oliveandfrank.co.uk 

“I think running a female-led business, it sort of aligns with many feminist values and it’s just getting across that message to women especially, that you can achieve anything and often I think women can underestimate their own potential and I want to drive that home that you can do whatever you want to do, even if it might be a male-dominated environment - you can still go ahead and do that", she says.

“I think that’s something that just sort of naturally manifested in my brand and my designs because those values are important to me."

After building up a successful online platform with Olive and Frank, Chloe collaborated with the charity Womankind for International Women's Day to create a feminist t-shirt.

“I actually came across Womankind when I was looking for a charity to work with and I just really liked what their mission statement was; they strive for lasting change in so many women’s lives. I like that what they do is completely across the board - they go from ensuring women have water and food, through to increasing women’s participation in decision-making in government. I think that just really was something that aligned with me and I wanted to support.

Womankind x Olive and Frank

Image courtesy of Bethany Hughes/oliveandfrank.co.uk 

“I then contacted them and came up with the t-shirt design that was inspired by what they do and being a free woman and shining a light on strong women in everyone’s lives.

“It was a great campaign! I always get a bit nervous when I start any sort of new project like that because you never know what the response is going to be. But I was really quite overwhelmed with such positive responses and I think people just resonated with the t-shirt and with the cause.”

Chloe's clothes are all sweatshop-free, environmentally friendly and meet fair wear standards- something she says is an obvious way forward for brands.

Image courtesy of Bethany Hughes/oliveandfrank.co.uk 

“For me, it’s quite an obvious thing that if you’re creating something that has a supply chain, to do it in the best, most ethical way that you can and that’s always been important and been an ethos of mine," says Chloe.

“I think my whole brand ethos is about creating really good quality pieces that last and aren’t just throw away fashion, and then ensuring that every person along the supply chain as much as I can, is treated fairly and has a safe working environment -anything I can do to do that is important."

She continues: “It’s a continual process and it’s something I’m always working to try and improve in every area - the sustainability and ethics of the brand overall in every area of the business.

Looking forward, Chloe says her main goal for her female-forward brand is to simply have a positive impact on her wearers. 

“At the end of the day it’s clothes, it’s not life and death, but if what I create can have a positive impact, I think that’s the end goal.”

Lead image: all courtesy of Bethany Hughes/oliveandfrank.co.uk and Lauren Rosenbaum/loulabellerose.co.uk




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