How are the big fashion houses participating in the conversation about feminism?

Lily Dosanjh discusses the way in which fashion brands are acting in the interests of women, and those who are profiting off feminism.

Lily Dosanjh
23rd November 2020
instagram @britishvogue
Feminism is in Vogue (quite literally). From Megan Markle’s collaboration with the magazine on ‘Forces For Change’, which celebrated a range of female activists to this year’s July cover story on ‘The New Front Line’, it seems that we are seeing an emergence of a political streak in the fashion industry. But how has this influenced the clothing brands that we buy from?

The celebration of women in fashion is now shown by high street brands through their advertising campaigns. In 2016, H&M released their “She’s a Lady” advert, portraying a range of women with different ethnicities, body shapes and ages sharing one common factor: power. Not straying too far away from the H&M group, their little sister, Monki, also shows examples of girl power through its “Monkifesto”. Its own personal manifesto aims to start an online platform covering topics involving young women such as periods, body hair and cyber-bullying. Monki’s campaign is accompanied by pink knickers with red font across the back stating that “periods are cool”. These initiatives are not exclusive to the Swedish fashion group as several organisations like NET-A PORTER and Vero Moda highlighted their support for International Women’s Day this year through donating their profit sales to charities that campaign for women’s’ rights.

instagram: @snasksthlm

The catwalk is not lagging in empowering content either: Dior’s Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear collection was inspired by author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, with t-shirts reading “WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS” paired with floaty midnight blue skirts. A few years earlier, Chanel’s Spring Ready-to-Wear showed supermodels like Cara Delevingne protesting down the runway as they hold up signs that said, “women’s rights are more than alright!” and “ladies first”.

It is admittedly easy to be sceptical about this plethora of images that state that they are for women, when the fashion industry is notoriously known for being against us. This so-called “popularity of feminism” has created a culture of “femvertising”, a trend in which incites us to buy from brands because they seemingly display values that emulate our own. This leads us to question, is this all just a marketing ploy?

For instance, Chanel’s 2015 catwalk may have been viewed as revolutionary but Karl Lagerfeld’s past comments on women were hardly progressive. In 2008, he claimed that “curvy women should not walk the runway”. Unsurprisingly, there was a clear lack of diversity amongst the Chanel models depicted holding the signs that state “be different”. Another worrying aspect of fashionable feminism is fashion retailers' poor treatment of their factory workers. Boohoo’s selling of cheap satin pyjamas with “girl power” embroidery on the pockets is undermined by their exploitation of its employees. Feminism may be sold but it is not always practised in this industry. 

Feminism may be sold but it is not always practised in this industry. 

However, there is hope! We are seeing women like Diane von Furstenberg (DVF) talk openly about feminism as she hosts her annual DVF awards and gives financial support to women who have demonstrated good leadership in their businesses. As regards to female-inspired garments, Muiccia Prada’s Spring 2018 show featured military inspired pieces with artwork from solely female cartoonists in a way suggest “militant women in a very practical way”. Similarly, there are brands with the likes of 3.1 Phillip Lim that describe their couture to be like the woman’s “modern day armour” providing a UK dress size range of 2 - 16.

Despite the trend forecasts, feminism has always been fashionable. Whether that be Coco Chanel being in favour of practicality when designing for the working woman or Yves Saint Laurent creating his famous trouser suit for the woman in the 1970s, women are the inspiration for finding what is next à la mode. Politics and fashion are not a new combination either as we have already seen the likes of Katharine Hamnet’s “choose life” t-shirts and Vivienne Westwood (although, she is not a self-claimed feminist), who combines political statements with her avant-garde style. Therefore, feminist conversation has always coincided with the fashion industry, naturally, as women are at the forefront of it. Nevertheless, we should continue to demand to see as many women in executive roles as we do female consumers as well as campaign for better diversity and fairer treatment for female employees in the industry. Undeniably, more conversations need to be had to ensure that feminism doesn't become last season’s news.

Feminist conversation has always coincided with the fashion industry, naturally, as women are at the forefront of it.

Image credit: instagram @britishvogue

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