Reflection: ProjectFEM’s Feminist Fashion Catwalk and Exhibition

High on the buzz of the debut ProjectFEM fashion event, Founder Holly Campbell reflects on the day, thanks all involved and offers food for thought for the next epic event…

The event was truly a success. After months of planning and exasperating hard work Danielle, Annie, Georgie and I managed to pull together our first event working late nights and weekends around our full time jobs. We emailed until our fingers were numb, persistently pitched for funding and flyered until we ran out of places to go; it all paid off on the day and we seamlessly improvised through unexpected challenges.

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The Team: Annie (Media), Holly (Director), Georgie (Stylist), Danielle (Event Manager at Cargo)

We welcomed guests including the Women’s Equality Party’s Sophie Walker and Catherine Meyer, plus size model Jada Sezer, activist model Rain Dove and America’s Next Top Model’s first gay contestant Cory Wade. All of whom were incredibly passionate about the cause and recognised the necessity of opening a conversation about the detrimental impacts of fashion around gender, beauty, diversity and representation. Sophie Walker gave a captivating speech about WEP’s #NoSizeFitsAll body image campaign, in which a fundamental component is to pressure London mayer Sadiq Khan into withdrawing funding from London Fashion Week for shows that do not cast at least one model of size 12 or above. Our audience were reassuringly engaged and opened up further important conversations around body image and fashion. Take action here.

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Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, speaking on 09.09.16

Then the show began! Our models were beaming with confidence and excitement and it showed. Designers included Gudrun & Gudrun, a sustainable knitwear brand and Neon Moon a feminist lingerie brand. Each look made a statement through visual culture in terms of gender and beauty.

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VIPs at the ProjectFEM event, 09.09.16

Diversity and representation are our fundamental aims and integral to our values and mission. We were successful in achieving racial diversity amongst our cast of models and we had a range of genders and ages. However, we recognise that we did not capture a cast as representative as we had hoped. We had two recruited plus-sized models and a model with physical disabilities, but at the last  minute they pulled out which was out of our control. This meant that we did not manage to represent physical disability in the show, whilst invisible disabilities were present amongst our cast.

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Catwalk Finale, 09.09.16

Upon reflection, as much as we advertised through social media, flyered and put out casting calls with a diverse modelling agencies, we struggled to capture the amount of transgender, age and ability diverse models as we wanted. We were inundated with applications from models from ranging ethnic background but found it a real task to reach those with broader ranging underrepresented qualities. Starting the project we thought individuals from these groups would eager get involved. Upon reflection, this challenge shows that if there is no consistent mainstream space for these people then how can there exist an aspiring population of models ready to jump at our adverts? We advertised with a diverse modelling agency but that brought us only young, slim and ethnically diverse models. Diversity is more than that.

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Models from the ProjectFEM Catwalk, 09.09.16

This exemplifies the need for us to continue our work in advocating true human representation within fashion. To achieve that we need to provide opportunities, hope and change for human beings who are completely unrepresented by the fashion industry. We need to give them the space to become models in the first place, to pressure fashion week organisers, designers and advertising agencies to allow equal space for these models. We cannot simply widen the goal posts of idealised beauty by having racial and size diversity, we need to reinvent those ideals from a deeper grassroots level with the radical value that we are all beautiful, all races, abilities, genders, sizes and ages included.

We cannot merely broaden the goal posts of what or who is considered idealised beauty, we need to revolutionise what we are told beauty is. If people outside the stereotypical ideal are not represented then they are unlikely to aspire to become models. We must provide that empowerment and a platform for them to do so. We have learnt a tremendous amount from hosting our first event and our values, drive and integrity has never been stronger!

Feedback from models following the event:

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Styling Radical Buttons, the Feminist Badge Designer

This week we styled pieces by Radical Buttons, an accessories brand that aim to ‘make the world a less oppressive place, one button at  a time’. Radical Buttons launched last year with the vision to create feminist and social-justice themed accessories to promote self-empowerment and anti-oppression. Half the proceeds of your purchases go to charities and you can customise your own pieces!

We chose the following handmade pieces to style into two different looks:

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The designs make statements on a range of social justice issues that affect women and the LGBTQA+ community from sexism to veganism and politics. We love the humour and novelty behind the designs, which makes each piece more meaningful in expressing your identity through your style.

Pink is Power

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The designs of the badges and necklace have been co-ordinated with the colours of the shirt and coat for an unashamedly pink and feminine look. We should not be ashamed of embracing our femininity for fear of compromising how seriously we are taken by the outside world. Reclaim pink into your style, it holds power and sentiment. Take ownership of being a woman who embraces her femininity without compromising her mission.

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This sentiment also goes for the novelty pumps, fashion should be fun, creative and expressive so own it by pairing cute, unique pieces with Radical Buttons accessories that make powerful statements.

Look 2Express Yourself

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Instead of buying into a pre-motif’d jacket, go DIY and customise your own with motifs and badges that make meaningful statements that express you, your views and your values.

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A mesh crop top and appliqué bralet makes a visual statement of liberation and empowerment by taking ownership of your body regardless of shape or size. We are taught to cover up and wear styles that ‘flatter’, but it can be liberating to show your body in the public sphere, when women are predominantly told to cover up boobs and hide any fat.

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We believe that self-expression, either through novelty accessories or statements on pins is fundamental to style. Don’t be a dupe of fashion by buying pre-motif’d jackets this season, create and customise your own with badges that are important and expressive to you. Regardless of what the catwalks and magazines tell us is in season right now, carry novelty accessories through because they create a sense of timeless character and personality for your look.

Show us how you are styling your Radical Buttons accessories, and we will share them on our Instagram page!

Written and styled by Holly C

Hail the All-Encompassing, Revolutionary, Inclusive and Diverse… Barbie Dolls?

After years of public demand, Mattel have finally released a line of Barbie dolls with diverse body types. The new dolls represent curvy, petite and tall female body types, in addition to the unrealistically slender original Barbie doll.

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It is well-founded that the idealised image of beauty perpetuated by Barbie is detrimental for young girls, causing low self-esteem, eating disorders and other body-image related issues. This occurs within a culture of slenderness, where we’re bombarded with media messages reminding us that we can never be thin enough. Research has found that exposure to the doll can cause body dissatisfaction in young girls, and for children, this comes at an age where they are becoming critical of their bodies and developing the facility of self-comparison. The idealised image of beauty perpetuated by the original Barbie (slim, white, blonde and able-bodied) causes difficulties for girls in developing strong self-esteem as the image is incoherent with their self-perception.

Barbie Real Woman

Last year Barbie dolls with eight new skin colours and 14 different facial structures were introduced to the brand, demonstrating a move towards racial and ethnic diversity. In addition, Mattel also introduced a Barbie doll with moveable ankles, allowing her to wear flat shoes. This suggests a slight broadening of the feminine ideal perpetuated by the doll’s image.

However, whilst there have been some moves over time to produce dolls that are reflective of real women (after years of public dissatisfaction), it seems that the changes are simply widening the goalposts of idealised femininity and beauty, opposed to overthrowing them. They fail to be genuinely representative of everyday women with, for example, a complete absence of disability. The dolls still ultimately reflect traditional beauty standards, with perfect hair and skin, whilst promoting the acceptance of slightly more diverse body types and ethnicity.  The issue with the new dolls is that they are so close to the image of idealised beauty, that they are inevitably going to be accepted. However, the changes are not broad enough to truly widen the definition of beauty that is reflective of real women.

We think it is imperative to note, however, that women and girls should not be denied fun or enjoyment through associating with Barbie. Barbie can teach us important lessons about beauty, authenticity, creativity and how to be critical – a skill which is fundamental to building the resilience of women and girls under the scrutiny of beauty standards in society today.

Okay, the new Barbie line is more diverse and relatable than the original, but each doll still represents idealised beauty, and this move by Mattel is simultaneous with the diversification of model body types in fashion (well done trend spotters). We want a revolution not leniency in beauty standards!

Tell us what you think, click ‘Leave a Comment’ under the post headline!

Should we stick with Barbie or encourage girls to use the Lamilly doll? What are the significant changes you want to see? Does Ken need a makeover too?

Written by Holly C