Design Criticism: Politics in Fashion

Activism in the fashion industry has recently emerged in response to the current political climate in North America. From everyday clothing brands to high fashion designers, there has been an increase in visibility, protesting, representation, runways statements, and boycotting. However, the nature of the movements and trends in the fashion industry gives rise to the question: Is activism in the fashion industry going to be effective in bringing about change or is it going to be another fleeting trend that the industry capitalizes on?

Recently the “plus size” label has been increasingly popular amongst clothing brands and consumers are now able to access a wider range in sizes for clothing. Brands such as Old Navy, and Forever 21 offer clothing that is specifically created for women who go beyond a size 12. Although this feels like a step in the right direction, I feel that it lacks a certain bite in terms of political statements in fashion design activism. In From Design Culture to Design Activism, by Guy Julier, he argues that design activism “is a movement that is more self-consciously and more knowingly responsive to circumstances. It is politicized” (219). These brands are catering to the needs of people who do not fit conventional sizes by increasing the range but fail to acknowledge that sizes and shapes are very different things. The conventional form of “plus size” only includes those who have an hourglass figure , which has historically been deemed desirable according to an article called: “See How Much the "Perfect" Female Body Has Changed in 100 Years (It's Crazy!)” from The Greatest. Furthermore, clothing companies that start to broaden their range of sizes refuse to acknowledge that the term “plus size” is inherently problematic because it others those beyond a certain size. Brands such as Old Navy and Forever 21 create clothing that is palatable, while also catering to a demographic that they have never accounted for in the past.

Another example of a clothing brand that is hopping on the liberal bandwagon is Moschino, which has recently come under fire for the campaign, “Alien Nation.” According to the Independent, the campaign is a response to Trump’s immigration policy. It showcases models that are painted bright neon colours to demonstrate the brand’s alliance with immigrants in America. In an Instagram post by Moschino’s creative director, Jeremy Scott, wrote “I painted the models in my show and this campaign [is] a way to open a discussion on what exactly an ‘alien’ is — are they orange blue yellow green? Does this matter?” It is being criticized as “tone deaf” and “ignorant.” Due to the nature of the fashion industry, which habitually appropriates and capitalizes on different aspects of cultural phenomena, this is no surprise. If the goal had been to increase the visibility of the immigration policy and bring about change, there should have been actual immigrants represented in this campaign as opposed to the same group of white models and creatives trying to speak for everyone else. Moschino’s sad attempt to tackle political issues not only exposed a major shortcoming in the fashion industry, it also set a precedent on what not to do.

One example of activism in the fashion industry done right is Marco Marco. Marco Morante is a designer whose clothing, in my opinion, is a successful example of design activism. The clothes and costumes created for his shows are made for a diverse group of people. Marco Marco catwalks are notorious for showcasing people in the LGBTQ community, people of colour and people of different sizes and shapes that are not normally celebrated in the fashion industry. What makes Morante’s brand different is that the models he hires for his shows are his friends and people that he admires. It just so happens that a lot of them are also non-conforming and represent groups of people that go beyond the palatable group of models that most fashion  designers instinctuallyreach for. Morante’s clothing line recognizes the cultural circumstances of the fashion design industry and responds to it by intervening via his fashion line.

Although the recent surge in activism amongst designers in the fashion industry is a step in the right direction, I feel that there is still a long way to go. It takes more than pasting “the future is female” on a shirt in a capitalized sans serif font and dubbing it as activism. Brands who are serious about changing the industry through their clothing need to sincerely consider the implications that each aspect of their brand projects. True design activism in the fashion industry entails not only a response to cultural and environmental issues, it needs to be able to walk the walk as well.

For more information on Moschino's "Alien Nation" campaign, click here: