As we start to take in what 2017 is going to look like, there is a certain craze that we at The Fabric Social find worrying. Protest is trending - it’s all over the runways, and fashion rags. As a brand who actually gives a shit about social justice, this is starting piss us off. It’s much harder to swallow the BS of the corporate fashion world, when the reality is right under our noses. Lovewashing is the new greenwashing, and it has to stop.
You may have noticed brands like Coca Cola and Airbnb cashing in on our collective discontent in the wake of Trump’s election. Putting aside how problematic these campaigns are, we turn our gaze to the fashion industry, where rebellion, protest and “love” are reigning supreme.
Teen Vogue has rebranded itself to be part of the feminist resistance. Dior released a shirt that read “we should all be feminist”. Diesel’s #makelovenotwalls campaign is an obvious jab at the new US administration. Prabal Gurung’s NYFW runway show was a procession of slogan tees such as “revolution has no borders” and “this is what a feminist looks like”. And this week, the Missoni runway at Milan fashion week was a pussy hat parade.
The fashion world has wholeheartedly jumped aboard the love and rainbows train, tapping into the Trump-era anger boiling in our bellies. And as a consumer, we might be fooled into thinking the industry is becoming more progressive, shaking its skinny fist at The Man.
This isn’t an inherently bad thing, and high end luxury companies gracing the catwalk tend not to be the culprits in sourcing toxic materials and mass producing under slave labour conditions. Instead, they tend to be small scale European fashion houses employing lifers on decent wages. But their influence is vast, and their pockets are deep. Luxury labels pay executives handsomely to take the public pulse, and will no doubt profit handsomely from our genuine discontent, while participating in creating minimal change, if any.
What we need to be really wary of, is the fast fashion machine. We have no doubt that the mega-chains were lurking in the galleys of these shows, and will pounce on the protest trend. Give it a couple of weeks (because that’s all it takes these days) and you will see slogan tees and fist-raised ads popping up all over the place.
These feminism-lite and inclusivity messages must not distract attention from the need for real changes in the industry itself. 75 million people are employed by the fashion industry, and it is the largest global employer of women: mostly young women. Wages continue to be squeezed, and unions continue to be targeted whenever vulnerable garment communities collectivise. Child labour is reportedly on the up, and the industry is becoming masterful at slithering across borders when the regulation tape gets too tight for its liking.
Life is not getting better for women workers in the field just because a model in Milan wears a pussy hat. Consumers need to shift towards social enterprise, towards transparent supply chains, and support those who are part of the real rebellion.
You don't need to lovewash something that was actually made with love. We are proud of what we do, of the women who design, create and craft the clothing we sell. Our work offers a transformative model for women's development. We trust that people can see the difference.
The fashion industry needs to have the guts to look in the mirror, not just to critique the popularly unpopular outside world. We will be the first ones to applaud the industry for standing up for the vulnerable and disenfranchised, if and when they actually do.
Fi is the Co-Founder of The Fabric Social, a social enterprise working exclusively with women affected by armed conflict, displacement and other insecurity. The Fabric Social work to transform one of the greatest causes of poverty: armed conflict. You can shop, donate, or get involved here.