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What is Fashion Activism?


Fashion activism has become a powerful force reshaping the landscape of the fashion industry. In an era marked by social and environmental challenges, individuals are harnessing the visual currency of fashion to drive political and social change.

From protesting through clothing choices to advocating for sustainable practices, fashion activism has become a potent tool for sparking dialogue and effecting tangible change.

But what exactly is fashion activism, and how does it function within the global fashion industry? Let’s dive in and explore this vibrant intersection of style and social consciousness.

What Is the Meaning of Fashion Activism?

Fashion Activism

At its core, activism involves intentional efforts to bring about political, social, or environmental change. It is a non-violent ideology that comes in diverse strategies—protests, lobbying, grassroots organising, community mobilisation, legislative advocacy, and direct action. 

Whether acting individually or collectively, fashion activists work tirelessly to challenge the status quo, address systemic injustices, and amplify marginalised voices.

Throughout fashion history, activism has been instrumental in driving progress, from the civil rights movement to the anti-war movement and the fight for environmental justice. It harnesses the creative energy of fashion to drive social and political change, challenging traditional notions of beauty, gender, and power dynamics.

Through clothing, fashion activists communicate powerful messages, spark dialogue, and inspire action. From the black berets worn by every team member of the Black Panther Party, the colourful clothes that the hippies dressed in, or the paisley prints of the women’s liberation movement, fashion has been used as a form of protest and empowerment.

How Did Activism Start in the Fashion Industry

Fashion Activism History

Fashion activism has deep roots that stretch back through history.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the world was in turmoil. The anti-Vietnam War movement was in full swing, with protesters wearing black armbands and bell bottoms and taking to the streets to speak out against the war. In French history, the working class often wore practical attire, whilst the aristocracy favored more extravagant garments like aristocratic breeches.

Meanwhile, the African American Black Panthers movement embraced fashion as a form of black power empowerment, with members sporting all-black outfits with black leather jackets, black pants, and black berets as symbols of black pride and resistance against systemic oppression and the social hierarchy. 

At the same time, the second-wave feminist movement was gaining momentum, advocating for women’s rights and equality, and because of the continuous disappointment for the patriarchal system. The mini skirt was a form of women’s liberation and sexual freedom.

People then started using clothing to make a statement, whether it was through wearing protest logo t-shirts or embracing bold, unconventional styles. 

What Are the Common Causes of Activism?

Fashion Activism Causes

Fashion as a Political and Campaign Tool

When you think of fashion, you might not immediately think of politics, but the two have been intertwined for centuries. Fashion has a way of reflecting the spirit of the times, and slogan t-shirts have been worn by activists for decades to make bold statements and raise awareness about important political issues. 

During the civil rights movement and the Black is Beautiful movement, African American activists used clothing and hairstyles as a means of resistance and to implement African elements in society. Activists have also embraced statement uniforms to show solidarity and make their voices heard.

Promoting Social Causes

Brands and designers have increasingly embraced their role as agents of change, using their influence to advocate for social movements and promote positive messages.

Fashion weeks such as the London Fashion Week are one of the biggest events on the fashion calendar, and they’re not just about showcasing the latest trends. These are also a platform for designers to raise awareness about social issues such as diversity and inclusion on the runway.

Even Teen Vogue magazine focuses on empowering the next generation, covering various topics, from racial discrimination to LGBTQ+ rights. It challenges beauty standards and promotes inclusivity in the fashion world. 

Empowerment and Representation

In fashion activism, representation matters. African American women have long been underrepresented in fashion, but that’s starting to change. 

From the rise of black-owned fashion brands to celebrating black pride and culture on the runway, fashion activism is helping to create a more inclusive and diverse industry for African Americans and other races.

Ethical and Sustainable Fashion

An environmental social movement has played a pivotal role in driving the shift towards sustainability in the fashion industry. Movements like Extinction Rebellion have heightened awareness about the ecological footprint of fast fashion and the urgent need for more responsible practices. 

In response, fashion brands are increasingly adopting sustainable strategies, such as using organic materials, implementing recycling programs, and reducing waste in their production processes.

How Does Activism Work?

Activism operates on various levels, from individual acts of protest to large-scale movements, each tailored to the specific context and goals of the movement. 

From peaceful protests and direct action to advocacy and policy reform, activists employ diverse strategies to advance their cause. 

One prominent form of fashion activism is the use of clothing as a political and campaign tool. From slogan t-shirts to statement uniforms, activists use fashion to make bold political statements and raise awareness about pressing issues such as climate change, women’s rights, and racial justice.

Fashion choices can be a powerful form of protest. Whether it’s boycotting big brands that engage in unethical practices or supporting companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion, consumers have the power to drive change through their fashion choices.

What Is the Purpose of the Fashion Revolution?

Fashion Revolution is a global movement advocating for ethical and sustainable fashion practices. Stemming from growing concerns over fashion’s environmental and social impacts, the movement seeks to challenge the fast fashion model and promote greater transparency, accountability, and equity throughout the supply chain.

Through initiatives like the “Who Made My Clothes?” campaign, they encourage consumers to question brands about their supply chains and production practices. The Fashion Revolution Week, held annually, sees activists and fashion lovers worldwide engaging in various activities and raising awareness about the impacts of fast fashion.

What Is an Example of Fashion Activism?


Fashion activism continues to evolve, with contemporary activist groups and initiatives emerging to tackle pressing social and environmental issues.

Suffragette White

During the women’s suffrage movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, suffragettes often wore white clothing to symbolise purity and unity in their fight for voting rights and the new freedom that the French Revolution promised. It demonstrated their presence and commitment in public demonstrations and marches, drawing attention to the inequality women faced in society.

Anti-Fur Campaigns

Organisations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have been at the forefront of anti-fur activism in modern times. Through high-profile campaigns featuring celebrities and influencers, they’ve raised awareness about the cruelty of the fur industry. PETA’s demonstrations often involve public protests, runway disruptions, and attention-grabbing stunts, such as throwing red paint on fur coats to symbolise blood.

The Green Carpet Challenge

The Green Carpet Challenge aims to promote sustainability on the red carpet by encouraging celebrities to wear eco-friendly and ethically made outfits. Celebrities in the challenge wear outfits from recycled fabrics, organic materials, or pieces from eco-friendly fashion brands to high-profile events like the Oscars.

Queer Fashion

LGBTQ+ activists have used fashion as a form of self-expression and resistance against societal norms and discrimination. In the 20th century, figures like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, prominent transgender activists during the Stonewall riots, challenged gender norms through clothing choices. Today, queer fashion designers and brands create clothing lines that celebrate diverse identities and challenge heteronormative standards.

Body Positivity Movement

The body positivity movement challenges narrow beauty standards perpetuated by the fashion industry. Activists and influencers, such as Ashley Graham and Jameela Jamil, promote self-love and acceptance of diverse body types. Through social media campaigns, runway shows featuring models of various sizes, and advocating for inclusive sizing in fashion brands, they strive to combat body shaming and promote inclusivity and representation in the fashion world.

Final Note

Fashion activism represents a powerful fusion of style, substance, and social change, challenging traditional notions of fashion and advocating for a more inclusive, sustainable, and equitable industry. 

As consumers, we have the power to support brands that align with our values and contribute to meaningful progress. By making informed choices and demanding greater transparency and accountability from fashion brands, we can be collectively focused on driving positive change within the industry. 

Together, we can harness the transformative potential of fashion activism to build a more just, equitable, and sustainable world for all.

Ellora Sharma

Ellora Sharma is a 26-year-old fashionmonger from Leeds. She discovered her love for fashion through the many intricate and flashy designs found in the Bollywood films she religiously watched when she was younger (and continues to watch to this day). She has since developed an affinity for colourful and distinctive clothing, and loves to experiment with her style on the daily. She wants to help others find the same kind of joy and fun in clothing as she has.

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