Do you ever see a something, whether it be an object or a phrase, that is so omnipresent and think: what the fuck? Maybe it’s Nutella, or Adidas Superstar sneakers. That blue Zara off-the-shoulder dress. When beauty vloggers greet you by yelling: “HI MY PUMPKINS!” The question, “did you just assume my gender?” reserved exclusively for anyone that laughs through their nose while making this exact noise: hjuck, hjuck, hjuck.
For me, it’s unnecessarily sloganed apparel. Any T-shirt that reads, “PIZZA” has its own allocated space in one of the nine circles of Hell, perhaps a portakabin in Gluttony; if it’s vaguely Harry Potter-related, it has permanent residency in Wrath. It’s in Judecca, the absolute centre of hell, where the most catastrophically evil example exists: the futile feminist slogan. The majority of these garments are produced in sweatshops by underpaid, exhausted, and abused workers with factory managers that consider sanitation and fire-exits an extravagance, or by luxury brands that think sending four models of colour down the catwalk is the pinnacle of intersectionality, and that slapping a few buzzwords on a T-shirt (that only goes up to a European 42) is an act of defiance.
I mean: L’Oréal Paris featured transgender and black model, Munroe Bergdorf, in their beauty campaign, seemingly reflecting the diversity of womanhood, only to drop her after she voiced her concerns of the complicity of white people in widespread racism. They wanted to profit from the physicality of her minority experience, and not the activism and resistance that comes with her identity. I’m a simple girl with simple needs: I would rather feminism not be monetised by an industry that doesn’t uphold feminist ideologies, you know?
There are brands rightfully advocating change through their garments: their ethical labour and environmental practices, alongside plus-size, disabled, LGBTQIA, and PoC inclusion, reflect the messages emblazoned on their designs. I’m under the belief, though, that a feminist brand should not have to announce its feminism, but like these brands, should inherently be it. Anyway: let us commence this deep critical analysis of assorted items of feminist-branded apparel.
Christian Dior Spring 2017
Anyone who wears this T-shirt has said, “adulting is so hard!” but only when they find themselves in situations that can be simply remedied: accidentally spilling their soy latte on a cotton blouse; inputting their old postal address when subscribing to Marie Claire online; wondering why their hot water has been cut off when they’ve blown half of their paycheque on a $700 cotton T-shirt that reads “We Should All Be Feminists”. You know, that kind of thing!
Dior pledged to donate a portion of sales from the T-shirt to the Clara Lionel Foundation, created by Rihanna to help fund education and health programs for disadvantaged youths across the globe. The slogan itself is the title of an influential TEDx Talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in which she campaigns for greater gender equality and representation. This T-shirt had so much potential: however! Only nine of the sixty-four models that walked Spring/Summer 2017 were women of colour, with zero being plus-size, disabled, or transgender. Dior, additionally, does not disclose information regarding its business practices, supply chain management, or factory working conditions. Eighty-percent of garment workers globally are women, with an overwhelming number subject to abuse, discrimination, and oppression; by not revealing its structures, the treatment of Dior’s garment workers cannot be assessed, and guaranteed to be ethical.
Otherwild is a boutique imbuing a feminist rhetoric in its work, and actually practising what it preaches. Dedicated to supporting ethical practices, intersectionality, and activism, the brand is best known for one signature item: “The Future is Female” T-shirts.
The T-shirt first appeared in a 1975 portrait series by Liza Cowan, where she shot her girlfriend at the time, Alix Dobkin, wearing a shirt designed for Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City, that read “The Future is Female”.
The Otherwild boutique offers an inclusive space for the LGBTQIA population, and hosts regular readings, meetings, lectures, workshops, and more. In their own words, they are committed to providing “sustained support to our staff, vendors and suppliers, as well as grassroots and national social justice and health care organisation,” dedicating means within their business model to “support ethical practices, advocacy and activism as we continue to evolve within an exploitative, extractive, extreme and excessive consumer capitalist culture.”
Otherwild is unique in that their political, ethical, and artistic beliefs align with their business plan: 25% of the proceeds from each sale of the T-shirt are donated to Planned Parenthood. However, model Cara Delevingne and designer Prabal Gurung have both plagiarised the slogan, and created carbon copies of the original design. Their actions ironically counter the ethos of Otherwild, as well as the slogan and simply show that the industry is willing to profit from the work of minority groups, rather than support and celebrate their triumphs.
N-p-Elliott Spring 2018
This is what your feminist boyfriend wears to your gender studies tutorial after reading bell hook’s Wikipedia page. Your tutor capitalises her name when he writes it on the whiteboard: “the unconventional lowercasing of her name forces us to acknowledge the substance of her books, rather than her person,” your feminist boyfriend scoffs. “You’re probably a TERF as well!” your feminist boyfriend yells, wafting his hands to his face as he fights back tears. “THAT STANDS FOR TRANS-EXCLUSIONARY RADICAL FEMINIST!”
Your feminist boyfriend is scrolling through Facebook; he sees a UNILAD post stating: “TAG A FRIEND WHOSE NAME STARTS WITH ‘K’ AND THEY NEED 2 BUY U KFC LOL!” Your feminist boyfriend sighs: “That’s so gay, man,” he utters with an exasperated laugh. You ask your feminist boyfriend to consider using a different adjective to express disdain. “No, I’m bicurious, remember?” he replies. “I’m allowed to say it.” Your feminist boyfriend and his yellow pom-pom shoe laces confuse you.
Chanel Spring 2015
This slogan reminds me of a Facebook quiz I did several months ago that asserted I was the perfect girlfriend because I was “feminine, but not weak,” and could be hired for $90,000 for the whole year, which, if I’m honest, is an absolute steal.
Spring/Summer 2015 saw Chanel stage a mock demonstration, with models waving placards brandishing statements such as: “LADIES FIRST”, “HISTORY IS HER STORY”, and “BE YOUR OWN STYLIST”. Similar to Dior Spring 2017, a major caveat in Chanel’s feminist manifesto was the fact that out of eighty-six models, only twelve were women of colour, with zero being transgender, plus-size, or disabled. Chanel, too, is not a transparent brand by any means, choosing not to disclose information about their business structures, factory worker’s general well-being and rights, environmental impact, and more. Karl Lagerfeld also once said that the singer Adele was “a little too fat,” so, there’s that, as well!
If I were to draw a venn diagram of people who think that this T-shirt is in any way good, or worthy of being worn in public, and people who wear open-toe sandals to festivals and then complain when their feet get trampled on, the crossover portion would be the size of the sun.
Whilst not strictly feminist branded, the fact that this T-shirt is unisex indicates that it’s the perfect choice to wear with your significant other to Christmas lunch to stick it to your inappropriate uncle who, in 2017, still insists on making camp jokes, divulging in casual hate speech, and using outdated language when discussing race. Other suitable occasions include: your anthropology tutorial; if you have recently been eliminated from a reality television show and are being paid to promote this T-shirt on Instagram; and, if you want to let the entire world know that you’re a sapiosexual, Banksy is your favourite artist, and have read Infinite Jest.
Words by Isabella Corbett