“Fashion is a reflection of the time,” Anna Wintour once said. What we choose to wear is how we choose to communicate with others without speech. It’s what we want someone passing us on the street or sitting next to us on the tube to know about us.
So, it’s no surprise that the “Slogan T-shirt” has been so popular. Since the iconic designs by Katharine Hamnett depicting “Save the World” and “Vote Tactically” in the 80s, they have been an easy way to get your beliefs heard.
However, more recently, the slogan tee has become less politically aware, and more trend focused. The most common messages plastering the high street are “I woke up like this” and “I hate Mondays”. It is unlikely that these will inspire any social change.]It’s clear that the era of clothing making a statement is far from over. Rising through the tacky T-shirts, some independent designers are spreading their messages and values in style. Believing that clothing is still a powerful way to express yourself, they want to spark important conversations through what they wear.
Conflict of Ego, a London-based brand, dares to shock people with their designs. Each piece is a talking point, an invitation to start a discussion. Alanna Wain, founder & designer, wants to push the feminist movement further through her garments.
“Each piece shows the core values of the brand,” Alanna explains. Empowerment, feminism, liberation, and self-love are Conflict of Ego’s main messages. However, she wanted the clothes to stand the test of time, for these messages to continue to be relevant for years to come. As so many Slogan T-shirts fail to be.
Using silks sourced from Italy, the “Self-Love” collection features prints of nude women in materials that show off the figure of the wearer. This aims to encourage a claim over the female form, to take accept women as they are, instead of creating an unrealistic ideal. Alanna believes that there is fear and shame surrounding the natural female body. She wants to force people to face it and love it.
The collection also features their “period” T-shirt. Intending to show women that menstruation is not something to shy away from but to be proud of. Alanna hopes that this will remove the fear of talking about the topic. “Being on your period is something you should be happy about, it means your body is healthy and working.” She wants to show that it’s not a taboo subject which should be kept in female changing rooms.
While observing societal attitudes towards fashion, she realised how people’s behaviours are changing. “The way that we see ourselves has evolved,” Alanna says. The way we value social media and our attachment to brands has inspired her designs. She saw it as a “new kind of vanity” and wanted to celebrate it rather than condemn it. Calling the collection “Not in Vain”, she prints spiritual figures and images such as the Virgin Mary and stained-glass windows.
Alanna suggests that social media is a new kind of religion and our social media alter-egos have become the idols we worship. “The women wearing this collection, like the women of Instagram, adore the world’s adoration and know no limits.” These collections make a statement and shed light on social movements.Sophie Dunster, another London-based designer, also uses her designer’s “voice” to start a political conversation. Growing up in a zero-waste home and admiring her father’s work as a zero carbon architect, she strived to do something good for the world with her own work.
Sophie started her brand “Gung Ho” to make an impact through art. Her work is inspired by environmental issues; she hopes to bring attention to these causes through her designs, This year she designed the “Oceans” collection, featuring jumpers embroidered with sea creatures, and Tencel dresses printed with seabirds. She hoped that this would encourage discussions on the amount of plastic in the ocean. “If someone is unaware of the issues of plastics in the ocean, I would hope that my clothing would start a conversation that leads to action,” she says.
Her previous collections included bee necklaces and statement earrings of large blooming flowers, to raise awareness of the bee crisis. There are layers to the messages that her clothing aims to express. “The print is the one that you see first, but when you look closer, there is more to it.” Sophie explains that the materials she uses to make the garments, mainly Tencel, uses 20 times less water than cotton. The environmental statements that she is making through her clothing is a reaction to the crisis that we are facing.
It is not only designers who are using clothing as a way to express themselves. Consumers are using their clothing as a tool for engaging in discussion and showing their values. Jessica Sartenear, a television documentary researcher from London, explains that she uses her clothes to express her opinions. “I’ve got really into wearing things that interest me, rather than worrying about how they look on my body,” she says.
Jessica shows off the T-shirt she bought with an illustration of a red devil smoking a cigarette. She bought this from a recent exhibition of an artist she admires, Polly Nor, a London-based artist that is best known for dark and satirical illustrations of women and their demons. She is inspired by her own female experience of life in the internet age. Her drawings often tell stories of anxiety, complicated relationships and the struggle for self-acceptance.
“Fashion has been hijacked by our own expression”
By wearing this T-shirt Jessica hopes to strike up discussions about the female experience and show her support for Nor’s work and everything it stands for. “Women’s struggle for self-acceptance and the anxieties that go with that are something I see in myself and my friends every day.” Says Jessica. These clothes humorously depict women as devils underneath their skin. However, they initiate serious conversations about the anxiety behind trying to fit in.Christopher Di Pietro, Global Brand Director of Vivienne Westwood, explains the power that clothing can have: “Fashion has been hijacked by our own expression. If you have something to say, it’s easier to use fashion. It’s a communication vehicle. It’s a medium.” Westwood designs have always had a political message, from punk in the late 70s, to saving the rainforests today.
Westwood’s collaboration with Cool Earth has produced T-shirts depicting a rainforest scene and which read “Save the Rainforests.” The proceeds go towards Cool Earth, a company that works with lawyers to purchase the land surrounding rainforests to prevent deforestation. Wearing one shows your advocacy for the cause as well as raising awareness to an urgent issue.
These statements provoke activism and reflect the issues of our time, so simply wearing a T-shirt can inspire change without speech.
Feature image by Eneida Hoti via Unsplash