By Christina Dean
I realised that feminism is back in fashion when I was in New York during the city’s famous Fashion Week. But it wasn’t the bloggers’ miles of digital coverage or my Instagram’s overwhelming feed of front row fashion news that gave me this revelation. Instead, it was my conversation with Freddy, my friends’ nine-year-old son who recently swapped South Bay Road for Madison Avenue, who made me reconsider feminism in fashion. Sitting over his bowl of overflowing Coco Pops, he casually told me how popular Pussy Hats are in the US. ‘Everyone’s wearing them’, he said.
For the initiated, Pussy Hats are pink, skullcap-like woolly hats with pointy ears that proliferated during the recent Women’s Marches, catalysed by Trump’s victory. I’m not sure what the Hats are supposed to look like – pink cat or strange vagina – but whatever, they are a statement about gender equality. Yet coming from a child who is (presumably) more interested in football and Pokémon than fashion and Pucci, my attention was pricked.
The true beauty of fashion is not the colours or shapes it comes in. It’s what fashion says about the state of the world that interests me. I’ve always loved working in fashion, through Founding Redress, the NGO reducing waste in fashion and Co-Founding the social impact up-cycled brand, BYT, because fashion is a reflection of our times. If you scratch beneath the cotton, hair spray and makeup, you find an industry that evolves according to what’s going on around us. At their best, fashion designers are cultural commentators.
So after Freddy’s comment about Pussy Hats, I was on semi alert.
A few days later, the Fashion Week baton moved from Manhattan to Milan. And here, the famous family-run Italian knitwear brand, Missoni sent their models down the runway wearing pink Pussy Hats. And all the show guests, regardless of gender, received their own hat, proving that you don’t have to own a pussy to support gender equality.
Elsewhere, many of the world’s top designers rolled feminist slogan T shirts down the runway. Cue Dior’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ T shirt, which was echoed by a flurry of others touting ‘The future is female’ and ‘Full time Feminist’.
Beyond slogan T-Shirts and Pussy Hats, I’ve reflected on the power women have to change fashion, through the power of money and how women shop and invest. Because money talks. And right now, it’s looking to scream.
Women are getting richer, whether you have personally noticed it or not. One global bank recently reported that the global wealth of women is expected to grow from today’s $13 to $18 trillion by 2021. Women are predicted to control more private wealth than men year-on-year over the next five years. And these wealthy women are more focused on financial investments that bring about social good, so much so that women are expected to invest $2.3 trillion into ethical causes by 2021. I’m applauding! These super rich women can invest a united way into a better fashion system that respects women and the environment.
But girl power is not just for the ultra-high-net worth. Whether we shop in Prada or Primark, women hold sway of fashion. Around 60 percent of apparel purchases are womenswear and women influence up to 80 percent of household consumption. So by women’s heightened ethical values, we can shop our way into a fairer industry.
Because ultimately, if we want to don Pussy Hats, wear slogan T shirts and hit the streets championing gender equality, we must remember that most clothing purchases affect women; whether in Cambodia, China, Laos or Lagos. It’s estimated that 80 percent of garment workers are women, many of whom may be working under inhumane conditions making cheap clothes. Contrast this to the fact that none of the heads of the world’s 15 largest mass-market apparel companies on the Fortune 500 are women, and you see why we all need to wear Pussy Hats.
So if feminism is really is back in fashion, we need to champion more than the slogan T shirts and Pussy Hat. We need to salute the power of women to invest and shop our way into a better future by supporting ethical brands and more equitable and transparent supply chains that empower women, from the bottom of the ranks to the top.
So next time I’m in New York, I’ll check in with Freddy, who is currently volunteering in remote Africa with this disabled children. Oh, and I’m sure he’ll have something interesting to say about that too.
Christina Dean is a sustainable fashion advocate who founded Redress, the Hong Kong environmental NGO with a mission to reduce waste in the fashion industry in 2007 in Hong Kong, and she co-founded the social impact up-cycled fashion brand, BYT. She is a regular speaker around the world and has been listed by UK Vogue as one of the UK’s ‘Top 30 Inspirational Women’. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist and a practicing dental surgeon.