There were slogan shirts aplenty at Menswear Week in Cape Town last month but local designers seemed to have little meaningful to say.

On the other side of the world, though, high fashion labels are having a dig a the new administration. Balenciaga created a tribute to America's favourite socialist grandfather, Senator Bernie Saunders, with outfits that flashed a reinterpretation of his campaign graphics.

Balenciaga pays tribute to Bernie Saunders
Balenciaga pays tribute to Bernie Saunders
Image: Getty

Next, models for New York-based brand By Robert James carried protest signs claiming "#RefugeesWelcome", ''Bridges not Walls" and "I'm addicted to Foreign Oil".

Then at New York Fashion Week there was a bonanza of T-shirts blaring feminist slogans. The models at the Prabal Gurung show strutted down the catwalk bearing shirts that read ''The Future is Female", ''Our Minds Our Bodies Our Power" and ''Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Rights".

Prabal Gurunga
Prabal Gurunga
Image: Getty

UK brand Ashish showed a line of brightly coloured, sequined outfits at London Fashion Week with political slogans aimed at Donald Trump like "Nasty Woman", "Love Sees No Colour," "Pussy Grabs Back" and "More Glitter Less Twitter."

New York-based fashion and lifestyle brand Creature of Comfort created white shirts that read "We Are All Human Beings". And digital fashion news agency Business of Fashion sanctioned a movement called #tiedtogether - white bandanas were handed out with Calvin Klein invitations to the public to wear the bandana to ''make a statement in support of solidarity, human unity and inclusiveness amidst growing uncertainty and a dangerous narrative peddling division".

Other attempts to promote solidarity included the wearing of red "Trump" hats by the label Public School that carried the slogan "Make America New York", and models stomping down runways to the tune of David Bowie's This is Not America, John Lennon's Imagine, and Depeche Mode's People Are People.

But does all this sloganeering really make a difference? And does it make the protest less valid if most people affected by current world events can't afford or engage with the fashion houses making a statement?

Is the average American even aware of the protest the fashion industry is making?

The fashion industry — particularly internationally - has been accused routinely of not being inclusive and steering clear of models of colour, questionable gender, or larger than size 0 bodies — and only using the occasional variant as a seasonal statement or for shock value.

Of course what happens on the runway often filters down to more affordable stores — so that the trend becomes available to regular consumers who can also proudly proclaim that "The Future Is Female". But is it enough?

Sometimes there is a charity or organisation to which donations can be made that could actually make a difference, such as Project Runway star Christian Siriano's "People Are People" T-shirt, created to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union — the people behind the injunction that blocked the deportation of people stranded in US airports under US President Donald Trump's Muslim ban.

Similarly the Council of Fashion Designers America, whose CFDA Foundation has funded programmes for women and the LGBT community, launched the "Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood" campaign. The initiative saw the likes of Diane von Furstenberg and Anna Wintour donning pink magnetic buttons (no pins to pierce the garments, dahling) with the above slogan in an effort to boost awareness of the women's healthcare provider's work, which is under threat of being de-funded by the Trump administration.

Anna Wintour wears Planned Parenthood pin
Anna Wintour wears Planned Parenthood pin
Image: Getty

More than 40 fashion houses are participating in the CFDA campaign, including Carolina Herrera who dressed Ivanka Trump at the inauguration and said she would "be honored" to dress First Lady Melania Trump "out of the respect of the United States", while most of her fellow designers refused to do so. Clearly some designer statements come complete with double standards.

It's also interesting to consider why some issues are important enough to the fashion industry for designers and commentators to make a collective comment, while others are ignored. What about the Black Lives Matter movement or the dangers facing refugees fleeing war-torn Syria? Why aren't these issues important enough to appear as a slogan on a T-shirt?

Or should we see the statement T-shirt as the right of individual designers who have earned themselves a place in the limelight to make their views known on a platform that has a captive audience? This is the platform that enabled Mexico-born designer Raul Solis of LRS Studio to write "F#*k your wall" and "No Ban, No Wall" on the white panties his models showed off underneath their long jackets.

It's the same platform on which designer Hillary Taymour (from hip New York label Collina Strada), a self-proclaimed "second-generation Middle Eastern immigrant woman, who has had two abortions, and is known to date both genders", had models hailing from the seven countries on Trump's immigration ban list walk her runway.

Artist Barbara Hepworth noted that art is not art unless it says something and attempts to change the world for the better.

Perhaps fashion is trying its hand at this concept — attempting to make a difference ... one R1700 T-shirt at a time.


This article was originally published in The Times.
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