Author: Holly Campbell
It is no secret that Feminism, as a concept and a buzzword, has shot to the forefront of popular culture in the last couple of 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. Since then, ‘Feminism’ seems to be the ‘it-word’ of recent years. In 2014, we saw Beyonce’s ‘FEMINIST’ back drop at the VMA’s, followed by Emma Watson’s HeforShe campaign, Chanel’s Feminist protest catwalk and Amanda Sternberg raising light on the double standards faced by black women.
More recently, we have seen a serge in ‘FEMINIST’ emblazoned across sweaters and t-shirts by 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’; challenging conventions of femininity with plus size women, female leaders, women with armpit hair, shaved heads and muscles and women of colour. Last fashion week, Dior sent a skinny, young, white model down the SS17 runway wearing a tee with Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote ‘We should all be feminists’ printed across it.
As an instantaneous response, this is amazing! The feminist cause is finally receiving the attention it needs to achieve its goals. It is helpful for Feminism to receive attention within popular culture and fashion. Conversations about equality are opened amongst people who may have never otherwise encountered the movement. This attention may recruit new Feminists to take action for equality, it may encourage young women to read a feminist article or book, it may be creating a more accepting culture for Feminism to be discussed. Of course, this can contribute towards Feminism’s goals.
On the other hand however, how Feminist is this ‘Feminist’ fashion? Since 2004, Dove have been using a rhetoric of female empowerment to market their products, with a heavily criticised campaign. Now, 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 Feminism has become a trend. In one season, out the next. Trend-spotters must foresee upcoming movements 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 i.e. genuine 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 is not a cause for businesses to capitalise on. Truly feminist fashion contributes to the cause, uses ethically sourced materials, with no sweatshops that exploit 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. Do not settle for capitalist brands that are exploiting Feminism for profit. Consume fashion consciously and explore some authentically Feminist brands below.