Author: Holly Campbell
It’s no secret that feminism, as a concept and buzzword, has shot to the forefront of popular culture in recent years. But as feminism seems to be growing in popularity, just how ‘feminist’ is it? And how ‘feminist’ is feminist fashion?
Female empowerment has gained prevalence as a subject and rhetoric of advertising since Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign’ in 2004. Feminism’s mainstream popularity has grown as we saw in 2014 with Beyonce’s ‘FEMINIST’ back drop at the VMA’s, followed by Emma Watson’s HeforShe campaign and Chanel’s Feminist protest catwalk .
More recently, we have seen a serge in feminist fashion with ‘FEMINIST’ emblazoned across sweaters and t-shirts by top designers and brands. In September alone, H&M restocked their sell-out ‘Feminist’ tee with a similar sweater and dress. This was accompanied by an advert featuring ‘real women’ that aimed to challenge conventions of femininity with plus size women, female leaders, women with armpit hair, shaved heads and muscles and women of colour. Last New York Fashion Week, Dior sent a skinny, young, pale-skinned model down the SS17 runway wearing a tee with Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote ‘We should all be feminists’ printed across it.
On the one hand, these moves have received praise with some arguing that the feminist cause is finally receiving the attention it needs to achieve its goals. It is true that mainstream attention can be helpful for the movement to receive mass positive attention. Conversations about equality are opened amongst people who may have never otherwise encountered them. This could recruit new feminists to take action for equality, it may encourage young women to read a feminist article or book and create a more accepting culture towards equality. Of course, this can contribute towards feminism’s goals.
However, when does popular feminism simply become appropriation? Since 2004, Dove has been using a rhetoric of female empowerment to market their products. Today, Chanel, Dior and H&M are explicitly capitalising on feminism to sell their clothing. They are earning a profit from their ‘Feminist’ emblazoned clothing as the popularity of feminism continues to trend. But, for trends to come, they must go – in one season and out the next. Trend-spotters must foresee upcoming social shifts and incorporate them on to the runway or high-street ready for us to eagerly consume. As consumers and fashionista’s, we no longer relate to the young, skinny, ideal and H&M are aware of this, marketing an advert based on exactly that. Feminism is a trendy buzzword word and brands have reflected that trend.
It is not good enough to praise these brands for finally reflecting what we want and need such as, genuinely diverse representations of women and a recognition of the issues we face in isolation. Brands are foreseeing a shift in what women want and they are acting on that to maintain a profit. Feminism has become a popular cause for businesses to capitalise on. Truly feminist fashion contributes to the cause, uses ethically sourced materials, with no sweatshops and no exploitation of women. Truly feminist fashion is built on charity or social enterprise models, sustaining financial or physical contributions to feminist causes that give women opportunities and genuinely support women from all backgrounds. Be mindful of when a brand is exploiting women’s equality for profit. Consume fashion consciously and explore some authentically Feminist brands below.