Designers around the world are speaking out, supporting human rights, and taking political sides. Many brands want to be politically correct. 19 designers, including Vera Wang, Joseph Altuzarra, and Tory Burch, launched the Believe in Better collection to support Joe Biden before the US presidential election.
Others have spoken out against systemic racism. In 2016, NFL player Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
Nike's 2018 "Believe in something" campaign featured Kaepernick. Even if it costs everything.” Nike fans posted videos of themselves burning their old shoes on social media, and #BoycottNike trended. It was no longer just a brand, but a political statement. Others waited to see if Nike would succeed financially. Nike sales rose over 30% the year after the campaign, despite a share price drop.
In May, police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, sparking protests against long-standing US racial inequality. “Following the death of George Floyd, we saw that the public is not afraid to voice their intolerance toward racism and that set in motion the movements we've seen recently to challenge discrimination in all its forms,” says Sanjay Bhandari, chair of Kick It Out, a UK-based organization that fights discrimination in English football. “Brands have been aligning themselves with well-known figures and influencers to support Black Lives Matter, as a way of pledging their solidarity and commitment against racism.”
Fashion supports other inequalities. After #MeToo, designers worldwide promoted feminism and female empowerment. At the 2018 Golden Globes Awards, actresses wore all-black, Egyptian designer Rana Yousry showed her Black Rose line at Arab fashion week with themes of feminism, strength, and power, and Saudi designer Arwa Al Banawi dressed the Saudi women's soccer team for the 2019 Global Goals World Cup in Copenhagen.
“Fashion reflects ‘now.' "For it to have power and feel right, it has to speak to what is going on more broadly," says Dr. Rosie Findlay, course leader in fashion cultures at London College of Fashion. Sometimes, undesirable demographics adopt brand signatures.
A US far-right group stole a Fred Perry black and yellow polo shirt, and European football hooligans wore Burberry checks in the 1990s. In the 1960s and 1970s, skinheads loved the British brand. “They have absolutely nothing to do with us, and we are working with our lawyers to pursue any unlawful use of our brand,” Fred Perry said, withdrawing the polo shirt from sale.
Findlay cites Maison Cléo as an example of morally driven business decisions. “It constantly promotes slow fashion and educates its followers about the unsustainable fast-fashion system.” Bhandari says, “we need to see more from some brands in terms of their commitment.” Fashion has always united people. “We also need them making a positive contribution to society and their local communities,” he says. Bhandari advises brands to "look inside their organizations and develop long-term plans for social inclusion and racial equality so that they foster a more inclusive environment and attract a more diverse workforce" to address racial inequality. Fashion, which changes with the times, must speak louder and be more politically brazen in an age of political extremes.