From 18 to 83: Three Introspective Feminists Share a Homogenous Vision for the American Fashion Industry

From wearing pussy hats at the Women’s march to the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) providing “Fashion Stands with Planned Parenthood” pins at New York Fashion Week (NYFW), it’s not an understatement to say fashion followers observed a wave of fashion meets activism through January to February. 

For activists, outfitting themselves in message tees and slogan hats may be an integral part to stand in solidarity with the feminist movement. On the other hand, due to the casual and conventional vibe these print garments and accessories add to one’s look, sweatshirts and chokers with a “feminist” label are now sold at fast fashion brands like Forever 21. While consumers may argue that affordable brands are bringing visibility to feminism, they must also be aware that the language is being misused as a profitable marketing tactic in fast fashion companies that put unethical labor into practice.

Furthermore, an article published in Fashion Journal, an Australian fashion publication, Dear fashion peeps: Feminism is not a fashion statement ,” motivated me to research, whether if it’s just to claim feminism as a fashion trend. While Journalist Bianca O’Neil of the article convinced me it’s absurd to think a message tee can entirely effect change, I went a little deeper to capture the voices of three women from different generations who are passionate about feminism. I asked them about their personal lives and their journey as a feminist, as well as their answers to the essential question: “Do you see feminism as a fashion statement?” 

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Meet Kate Glavan,

Glavan is a senior at Edina High School who will attend New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Glavan has been featured in publications from Edina Magazine to Man Repeller  as a fashion blogger and a teen columnist. Glavan says she became passionate about feminism and gender issues entering high school. Her main education was through reading. She had upperclassmen friends who read books in the gender studies section of the library, and that is how she learned that there’s an entire collection of literature on the subject. In addition, she explored gender studies in modern forms such as following organizations and advocates on Twitter and watching videos and documentaries online. Glavan hopes to major in something that dwells on feminism and gender issues, since it’s an integral part of how she views her studies and the world.

To Glavan, feminism is all about “following through your actions.” She emphasized the importance of supporting causes, donating, going to protests, and having open conversations about equality and what micro-aggressions are. When asked to define feminism, she said, “Women standing up for what they believe in, fighting against things that aren’t fair, making the future an equitable place for women, especially for women of color.” 

Glavan and I discussed the irony fast fashion brands represent, while attempting to merge fashion and feminism together. Furthermore, Glavan highlighted that it has become a political statement to present oneself as a feminist or to use fashion as a medium to claim the label “feminist.” Nevertheless, Glavan thinks,

Feminism in fashion as a trend is unfortunate, because it should always be there.

Glavan proceeded to discuss problems the fashion industry faces in regards to representation of women. While most people perceive fashion as a female-dominated industry, you start to realize, as you get to the top, there’s less and less women represented. Therefore, Glavan believes the fashion industry can do better in terms of representation of women in the workforce and publication to achieve equality.

When asked to share her sentiments on message tees and slogan hats, she said there’s “good-willed effort” out there. Indeed, there are clothing companies such as OtherWild  and My Sister that work for an equitable cause; about 30-50% of the proceeds from merchandise goes towards funding organizations like Planned Parenthood and local shelters for sex-trafficking victims. However, when it gets to actual means of achieving equality, Glavan thinks wearing a statement garment isn’t acting in ways of legislations and policies.

Plus, we know a $710 Dior shirt that reads “We Should All Be Feminist” isn’t equitable to women without high-income in any way. Glavan agrees; she says, “it’s missing out economic privilege, and maybe women don’t have that much money to spend.” 

Glavan is still hopeful about the future of fashion and where it is headed. One thing Glavan thinks women can do to actually achieve feminism through fashion is to “shop ethically.” 

If you aren’t a supporter of slave labor, and if you don’t want your cheap textile wastes to rot somewhere underground tonight, perhaps you might want to make a visit to a thrift store like Buffalo Exchange , instead of hitting the mall.

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Meet Ann Friedman,

Originally from Iowa, Friedman is a freelance journalist and a podcaster who resides in Los Angeles. Friedman says she’s been a feminist for about 15 years. To Friedman, Feminism is a relevant issue, because “gender is relevant in the world.” She feels inequalities breaking down along gender lines is something everyone should work to address.

Feminism to Friedman is a simple belief that there should be equality regardless of gender, whether it’d be cisgender or gender non-conforming. In addition, Friedman’s feminism includes an “anti-racist analysis,” because gender certainly affects women depending on their race. As emphasized earlier, her analysis takes in account outside the binary as well. Her philosophy is that,

Who you are and facts about you shouldn’t determine the kinds of opportunities you have and the respects you garner. 

When asked to define feminist fashion in her words, Friedman said it’s fashion that obviously celebrates diversity and size-inclusivity together, but also, feminist fashion is fashion that takes in account on the labor of all people who have touched the clothing before it came into our customer hands. Therefore, a literal message a statement shirt conveys is “far-down-the-list concern” for Friedman.

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Meet Gloria Steinem,

Steinem is one of the most iconic activists of all times. She co-founded Ms. magazine, a liberal feminist publication, nearly 45 years ago. She understands her life as an “organizer,” beginning when she wrote the article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation”  in her 30s. It was the first step she took to fight for gender equality.

To Steinem, feminism has always remained fluid, and she believes one’s understanding of the term and claim to that identity “grows over time.” As noted in the dictionary, to Steinem, feminism also “just means equality;” it’s the belief in the full social, political, legal, economic equality of all genders.” 

When asked if Steinem sees feminism as a fashion statement, she disagreed. Similar to Glavan’s response, she thinks that wearing the word “feminist” doesn’t necessarily do anything for the movement. However, she said,

I don’t see anything wrong with owning the language and using it in fashion. It is part of the public domain, and using the word on clothing brings some level of visibility and may feel empowering to people on an individual level.

Regarding the faux-activism marketing tactic fast fashion brands are using solely for profit, Steinem said, “that’s not feminist, and there’s a huge contradiction in that case.” Steinem’s belief aligns with Glavan’s and Friedman’s. She highlighted the importance of carefully examining the practices of a company; if the way they produce their products is a human rights violation, then it’s completely mocking the feminist movement.