Is Fashion Really Woke?

The term ‘woke fashion’ became ubiquitous in the mid-2010s, as people in the fashion industry started showing concern for gender and racial injustice. It was high time they did because fashion, like many other industries, is not the most equal when it comes to gender and race. Sure, it may seem like the fashion industry is inherently progressive and encourages equality, but behind closed doors, the reality is different.

Yes, there have been trailblazers in the fashion that have put forward the message of equality and spoke out against racial injustice way before ‘woke’ even became a thing. But how far has fashion really come after going so-called woke?

Practice What You Preach

The problem with fashion’s stance on political issues like racism and gender inequality is that it makes bold statements without putting in the work. That’s not to say that it hasn’t made any progress. But the general trend seems to be all talk.

For instance, in 2020, after the George Floyd killing in the US, many brands came on to social media with posts condemning racial violence. However, many outside the industry called out fashion’s own hypocrisy.

According to an article on CNN, the brand Salvatore Ferragamo was accused of discriminating against trans models. Vogue magazine also received accusations of racism in the workplace.

When such big names are embroiled in such accusations, many of which are often brushed under the rug, one can’t help but wonder if fashion ‘wokeness’ is just that, a trend.

Short-Term Memory for Long-Term Issues

Another issue as far as ‘wokeness’ goes in fashion is that it’s an industry that moves at a quick pace. Just like its trends on the runway, important issues also end up going out of the spotlight. One article, one incident, or one collection will strike the conversation, which will last for a few days, and then something else will be living in the hashtags.

This short-term memory impact of fashion often works in favor of the big wigs in the industry. Alexander Wang, the much-celebrated New York-based designer, was accused of sexual assault by as many as 11 victims initially resulted in the designer almost being ‘canceled,’ another term often used for those who aren’t really woke. However, the controversy died down after the designer met with the victimes and expressed remorse without actually making a public apology. Fortunately for him,(or not) he didn’t suffer a complete ‘cancellation,’ so to speak.

So How Can Fashion Be More Woke, For Real?

There’s a lot more that people in the fashion industry need to do, especially those with a more controlling stake. This includes creative heads, executives, editors, and other major stakeholders who have a direct say in how things are done.

Acknowledging that racism or gender/sexual-orientation-based violence is bad isn’t going to cut it anymore. They need to start from within by first adapting more inclusive and equal practices. We need more representation of people of colour at the helm of fashion brands. More importantly, we need fashion bigwigs to not make these efforts for profitability but to effect real change.

La Jolie,

For Elemntz