Is Fashion Feminist Yet?
The fashion industry seems to be jumping on the feminist trend. But is it just that; a trend?
The International Women’s Development Agency defines feminism as “quite simply, … all genders having equal rights and opportunities.” In 2020 its hard to stomach the fact that not everyone would agree with this statement, but even today feminism is often associated with a certain stigma. However, within fashion, it has truly taken off.
In the last decade, the role of feminism within fashion has only grown, being utilized by hundreds of influential brands and designers. Perhaps one of the most notable examples of this was on the 2014 Chanel Spring Summer runway when Karl Lagerfeld instructed models to chant and wave placards which read “history is her story” and other common feminist phrases.
In addition to Chanel, other brands to adhere to the feminist trend include Dior, through their release of a t-shirt in 2017 featuring the quote “We should all be feminists”, and Tom Ford’s “Pussy Power” handbag. This year, at the Dior Autumn Winter 2020 show, massive neon signs featuring the words “Patriarchy = Co2” were lit up above the runway.
Whilst this participation of massive fashion houses in the feminist movement may seem positive, the representation of feminist slogans on clothing and displays of feminist protests on the runway have often sparked controversy. The fashion industry is inherently capitalist, and therefore ultimately is driven by its primary goal of selling products to make money. For this reason, it is difficult to trust that certain fashion houses are not jumping on the current feminist trend purely in order to appeal to their primary demographic; women.
In December 2019, Louis Vuitton ignited backlash after they invited none other than Donald Trump to unveil their new factory in Texas. The brand’s decision to have an openly racist, homophobic and sexist political figure represent them was met with mass outrage from the general public and even calls for a boycott. Members of Louis Vuitton’s own staff took to social media to express their anger.
Louis Vuitton in this instance is the perfect example of a brand who adheres to ‘trendy’ movements and ideologies when suited, whilst maintaining an entirely indifferent mindset internally within its company. Feminism in fashion has proven time and time again to be used as a way of selling a line and is then discarded after sales go up and society moves on to the next big political issue.
In the real world, feminism has been around a lot longer than people think, and its here to stay. Feminism isn’t trendy, it’s a life-choice, a mentality, a means of survival, not a fad. Some fashion houses and designers who are more dedicated to world issues and politics have succeeded in using their power and influence for good. In 2018 Gucci pledged to donate $500,000 to a charity supporting women’s rights, called Our Lives. There is more to be done though.
Movements such as #MeToo maintain the fact that women in celebrity industries including fashion are still controlled, abused and manipulated by men in power. Models including Ashley Graham have come forward as part of the #MeToo movement, and Victoria Secret came under fire after over a hundred of their own models signed an open letter demanding that the brand be held accountable for all of the women and girls sexually harassed under their supervision.
However, models and high-end industry workers are not the only women affected by this systematic oppression. Famed fashion blogger, Bryanboy, tweeted in 2016 a statement regarding the women who are used by fashion houses to produce their garments, saying that
“A report last year revealed that although the fashion industry continues to expand, the workers producing these garments (85% of them women) are still grossly underpaid.”
Women globally working under the fashion umbrella are not treated with respect, and the presence of feminism as a trend to be acted out on the runway or scrawled across a t-shirt is not going to fix any of the internalized issues with the industry that oppress women in fashion everyday.