Fashion Activism at NYFW

What we saw on the runway vs. what we saw on Instagram

NYFW is winding down, and this year we had a whole lot of #fashionactivism shown on the runway. From models of all sizes and ethnicities, to statement t-shirts à go-go, I am left wondering: was this a new trend? Or is the industry becoming more woke?

Mexican immigrant designer Raul Solis sent a model down the runway wearing underwear with the words “Fuck your wall” written on the back of them. Source:

Designers are making bold political messages at New York Fashion Week reports the Daily Mail UK. Fashion has generally tended to shy away from making any political statement in the past, unless politics become trend.

Attendees of the Calvin Klein show were given a ‘unity’ bandanas, much like the ones worn at the Tommy Hilfiger show in California by models including Gigi Hadid (pictured)

Is the white bandana the new safety pin? Who is is for? What is it changing? It feels like an exclusive elitist movement that starts on the front row of big fashion shows and descends down on the masses by proclaiming: We are all united. My “This is fucking Bullshit radar” is going off the charts.

Here’s another statement pantie for you:

Another model at the LRS show wore underpants that read ‘no ban, no wall’ at the show on Friday afternoon

My question to the Fashion Industry is: What else can we do besides over-priced (made in China) statement t-shirts?

Creatures of Comfort had a model wear a sweatshirt that said: ‘We are all human beings’, which tied into the industry’s stance of inclusion on Thursday

In her article “With Everything About Trump, What’s a Designer to Do?”, Vanessa Friedman declares:

“Message tees are a beginning, but they are also easy; it’s message clothing that is hard.”
“MAKE AMERICA NEW YORK” Public School: Fall 2017 CreditGuillaume Roujas/Nowfashion

What do we mean by message clothing?

It is in the fabric’s DNA: organic material, cruelty free or up-cycled plastic or waste into new material and fabrics that are post-consumer materials made to last, and made by non-exploitative manufacturing.

Illustration by Céline Semaan (me) for Slow Factory;

It is in the meaning of the garment: a Hijab, a Hoodie, Jeans, a Little Black Dress, every piece of clothing has a meaning and could carry a political message.

Gaza by Night, Slow Factory 2013

It is in the print: a message, an image, or data telling a bigger story.

Exodus: Middle East North Africa + UNHCR Refugee exodus, by Slow Factory for Design & Flow; pink represents immigration patterns

Fashion as Archeological Artifacts

If we were to mix all three of these into one project, we would get: A Jumpsuit, made with 100% recycled plastic water bottles to denim and printed with a NASA Earth Observatory image of a melting glacier both raising awareness about the fact that Global Climate Change is Real (not an alternative fact) and being itself a reminder, a walking billboard of our understanding as a statement.

A Jumpsuit, Slow Factory, 2017

This jumpsuit will *never* biodegrade because of its plastic nature, it is used as a canvas for future archeological finding. A wearable art piece that both indicates on the fact that women wore the pants in our society, they worked, they were comfortable, and second: the proof that glaciers existed in a world post sea level rise where data will need to be archived on other things then digital platforms.

Alexa Rose, made this prototype possible, Meredith Truax for Slow Factory 2017

On Instagram we were able to see a more grass root approach to Fashion Activism that was missing from the runways at this year’s NYFW. My question to Fashion Editors is: How will you bridge the gap between the movement that started on the streets vs. what is most of the time talked about in the spotlights on the runways? How will you preserve innovation in your industry and nurture the rebels that experiment, design and create meaningful ethical products that your customers crave?

For more Fashion Activism stories, check out Slow Factory’s publication or follow us on Instagram.