The divisive presidency of Donald Trump has ushered in a new era for brand activism across industries, including fashion and retail.
Throughout 2017, industry leaders spoke out ardently against Trump policies, using a wide variety of tactics that ranged from emblazoning activist statements on collections to refusing to dress First Lady Melania Trump. Brands that had never before expressed a political leaning decided to take a stand, even at the risk of alienating Trump supporters. At the same time, long outspoken companies like Patagonia fought back twofold. Just last week, the company temporarily went dark on its website to make a statement against the Trump administration threats to national monuments in Utah. (The effort proved fruitful for the company, which saw a 7 percent increase in sales the week of the announcement.)
The pervasive political activism also helped set new trends, placing the term “pussy hat” in the American vernacular and, in turn, commodifying the feminist movement. According to Edited senior analyst Katie Smith, the activist momentum in fashion will continue into 2018 and translate into trends, as designers and brands continue to take bold stances in both messaging and design.
“2017 was one of the most polarizing and fragmented years on record, whether you look at politics, current affairs or entertainment,” Smith said. “This trend will continue in 2018 into the fashion industry. Whether it’s wearing extravagant, over-the-top silhouettes of the ’80s [as a form of] escapism or dressing functionally to reinforce our desire for comfort, what we’ll wear will span the extremes of the fashion spectrum.”
Here’s a breakdown of how fashion embraced politics in 2017.
Models took a stand
Trump wasted no time after his inauguration in January to enact a highly controversial executive order that prohibited travel to the United States from seven Muslim countries. Though it was later overturned, protests erupted across the country, and models were among the sign wielders. Among the most vocal were Gigi and Bella Hadid, the daughters of a Muslim father, who took to the New York City streets advocating for tolerance. Bella continued to express her discontent with Trump, speaking out against his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December. In response, she participated in the “Day of Rage” protest in London, in support of her family’s Palestinian heritage, marching along attendees toting “Free Palestine” signs.
Designers dumped Melania
One of the most polarizing issues regarded dressing First Lady Melania Trump, an act that has traditionally been an honor to fashion houses, regardless of political affiliation. While some designers took early stands on the issue — including Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Sophie Theallet, who all publicly refused to lend their sartorial services to the administration — others wavered, much to the chagrin of activist groups. However, designers like Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld remained steadfast in removing politics from the act of dressing the her. As Joseph Altuzarra told The New York Times, “I don’t want to not dress people I disagree with.”
The pressure to denounce styling the First Lady began to dissipate over the year, though comments regarding questionable looks have remained, including her choice of wearing Manolo Blahnik stiletto pumps to visit the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Despite critics decrying the footwear decision to be tone deaf, Blahnik defended Trump, telling Harper’s Bazaar UK: “I don’t think she’s insensitive. I think she’s working non-stop to make it work — possibly she was just wearing the shoes she left New York in.”
The rise of feminist merch…
In advance of the Women’s March — global protests in response to Trump’s threats to reproductive health and remarks about grabbing women “by the pussy” — everyone wanted to get their hands on a pink pussy hat. What first started as a small internet movement started by two friends in Los Angeles quickly took, over as women and men alike clamored to get a knit hat. Etsy shop owners pitched in, lending their knitting talents to the cause, with many donating a portion of proceeds to organizations like Planned Parenthood.
However, the explosion of feminism apparel didn’t stop there. Independent artists began producing “Nasty Woman” T-shirts, an ode to the derogatory statement Trump made against Hillary Clinton during a debate that has since been turned on its head. Meanwhile, boutiques and startups that had long specialized in feminist apparel saw a boom, including Otherwild, one of the main producers of “The Future is Female” products.
…and its proliferation on runways
Fall 2017 Fashion Month came quickly on the heels of the Women’s March, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America kicked off what would end up acting as a month-long display of runway activism. In an effort to support Planned Parenthood, the CFDA sent pins with the phrase “Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood” to designers, models and fashion publications, urging them to wear them at the shows. Advancing the movement was the many designers, including Christian Siriano, Prabal Gurung and Mara Hoffman, who showed looks that integrated T-shirts with political slogans like “I Am An Immigrant,” “Feminist AF” and “People Are People.” Even outside the U.S., designers got involved: In Italy, Missoni brought the pink pussy hats to the runway for Milan Fashion Week, donning models with the headwear as they walked down the catwalk.
Retailers bid adieu to Ivanka Trump
As the year progressed, brands became increasingly wary of the impact of holding ties with Trump and his relatives. After witnessing backlash against executives that expressed support of Trump at companies like New Balance, L.L. Bean and Under Armour, retailers started to get proactive. Department stores including Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus announced plans to drop Ivanka Trump’s eponymous fashion line. While the stores cited poor performance and slumping sales for the decision, they were undoubtedly influenced by consumer pressure and organizations such as Grab Your Wallet, which encouraged boycotts of Trump-affiliated companies.