• Sadie MacDonald

What you need to know about the politics of NY fashion week 2017.

It has been nearly a year and a half since the 2016 election of Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. president. There was a great deal of backlash from the public at this news as many Americans felt threatened by Trump’s campaign promises and what they meant for their future as members of American society.

In January, 2017; as Obama’s final days in office drew to a close, it became apparent that life under Trump was going to become a reality quite soon, and on January 20th the polarizing Trump administration assumed office.

Shortly after, New York Fashion Week took place between February 9th and 16th. It was during this time that the world took notice of some of the biggest names in fashion, using their platforms to exercise their discontent with the new head of state and the ideology he promotes.

Critics might say that this use of political activism was a cash grab by greedy major companies. They don’t care about the people affected by Trump’s agenda, and were using this emotional appeal to seem current to their audience and ultimately, to sell their products.

Certainly, it’s not misguided to be distrustful of the fashion industry, remember this is the same community that promotes unrealistic standards of beauty by favouring dangerously thin models, and in turn proliferates unrealistic beauty standards in our society. Additionally, the use of anti-Trump rhetoric during fashion week was opportune, considering such sentiments were raging amongst certain groups following the inauguration.

However, it should also be recognized when making this judgment that there are risks for the fashion labels choosing to be political. Firstly, the funding for the next season’s collection is heavily decided by the success of the previous one. By exercising opinions which fall on the more liberal side of U.S. bipartisanship, a company is risking loss of funding from those who don’t agree with their values. Thus, it seems possible that this support for those being discriminated against in our social climate is a positive and moral behaviour on the part of the fashion industry.

Over the past year, we have seen public discontent with social issues, ranging from racial and religious discrimination to standards of truth in media not being reached. In all of this it would be nice to think we’ll make it out the other end of this administration: a society better at questioning those we give the power to govern us.

Discerning whether mixing fashion and politics is ethical, it comes down to examining each label individually. Some companies such as Creatures of Comfort are selling their catchy slogan t-shirts and giving 50% of profits to the National Immigration Law Centre. It is thankfully the case that many labels are donating some profits from the sale of fashions seen on the runway.

Catchy t-shirts were not the sole expression of discontent with the current political climate. The streets of New York were pock-marked by fashion icons wearing pink pins stating “Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood”. Planned Parenthood is a reproductive health clinic for women which tests for STDs, and provides birth control and pregnancy terminations. The pins are a result of a partnership between the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Planned Parenthood. The goal was to make the public more aware of Planned Parenthood's work especially as it is an organization which Trump alluded to defunding. On the campaign trail, during a debate in Houston, Texas on February 5th, 2016, Trump is quoted to have said he “would defund it because of the abortion factor, which they say is 3 percent… I would defund it, because I'm pro-life." This quotation comes from a debate in Houston, Texas on February 5th, 2016. The pins are supported all the way to the top of the fashion food chain. Anna Wintour, Vogue Magazine editor-in-chief; and Diane von Furstenberg, fashion designer and CFDA Chairwoman, were both seen wearing the pins in support of women’s reproductive rights.

So what do you think? Is mixing fashion and politics a profit-maximizing method, or is it moral behaviour which represents the need to campaign for human rights, particularly the rights of those who are marginalized. If it is the later, how can we ensure that we continue to see creative ways of powerfully expressing beliefs in equality and freedom?

(Image Below: Creatures of Comfort Slogan T-shirt)