Modern political conversations are difficult, fraught, and intense. But they also are nearly ubiquitous, such that today’s consumers rarely leave their politics at home. Instead, they seek options to express and share their views widely and frequently, even in formal settings like offices that historically have discouraged such expressions. In response, fashion manufacturers have started designing and producing new items that people can wear to express themselves but still maintain a professional look.
For example, a scarf printed with line-drawn images of female candidates running for office entered the market as the first product offering from the company Resistance by Design. Diane von Furstenberg licensed its famous name to a shirt that changed the “von” to “Vote.” The high-end brand Lingua Franca has made its reputation on the basis of the progressive phrases it stitches into its fancy cashmere sweaters.
Some of the products are neutral, in the sense that they do not espouse any particular political view. Tory Burch’s efforts include a “Vote” shirt, which she paired with an opinion piece in which she called on companies in the fashion and retail industries to give their employees time off to visit the polls. Thus the firm does not express any particular political views, and Burch herself even rejects the idea that her actions are political at all, calling them “humanist” efforts instead.
But others are more obvious about their political leanings, a trend that directly contradicts the longstanding conventional wisdom that suggests brands should avoid taking controversial positions, so that they do not risk alienating large segments of their potential customers. The Supreme brand explicitly endorsed Hillary Clinton; the popularity and success of the “MAGA” hat has made it a shorthand signal of support for Donald Trump.
Whatever their approach though, the offerings are far more sophisticated than historical versions of political fashion. A museum retrospective highlights that consumers have always sought to sport their ideas on their literal sleeves, such as with buttons and pins that proclaimed for a particular candidate. But today’s consumers go well beyond pinning a button onto their shirt, exhibiting their desire for high-end, high-quality clothing options that still reflect their principles and beliefs.
In so doing, they also are supporting causes that they appreciate, because most of the fashion brands donate profits from sales of politically themed products to activist organizations or social marketing campaigns. For example, sales of a handbag, designed through a collaboration of Lingua Franca and MZ Wallace, led to donations of more than $100,000 to an organization that seeks to encourage more female candidates to run for office. The profits from a Moda Operandi trunk show benefited the participative citizenship group Rock the Vote.
1. Should fashion brands make political statements in their clothing? Consider both the risks and the opportunities associated with doing so, especially for high-end fashion brands?
2. If consumers are demanding such products, should brands in other sectors similarly be providing such product offerings?
Source: Vanessa Friedman, “Why Voting Is in Fashion” The New York Times, November 1, 2018; Cam Wolf, “Who Wins When Fashion Gets Political?” GQ, July 11, 2017