Everyone likes drama and glamour on the runways, but only a few dare to revolutionise it. In recent times, a remarkable shift has occurred, where the runway has become more than just a showcase of style; it has emerged as a potent medium of protest. This transformation has given birth to an intersection of art, politics, and self-expression, as the fashion world increasingly aligns itself with activism. Let’s talk about what happens when fashion becomes a medium of protest.
In fashion, this question celebrates influence and identity. However, it is used in a completely different context for survivors of sexual assault. It is used as a tool for victim blaming and justifying sexual assault. When fashion meets protest, social reform is created. The attempt to use runways as a platform of activism is genius.
Fashion, as a means of visual expression, serves as a potent currency for empowerment, breathing life into conversations about discrimination, inclusion, and identity. This approach transcends boundaries, validating the diverse experiences of individuals worldwide and reminding us that we are never truly alone in our quest for justice and equality.
“What were you wearing?”
From themes of overconsumption in the industry to modern-day feminism, New York Fashion Week has seen it all. Back in September 2019, Amanda Nguyen hosted one of the very first Survivor’s Fashion Show. Nguyen is the founder of Rise, which is a non-profit organisation that supports sexual assault survivors and their rights. She established the organisation upon witnessing the deeply flawed and distressing nature of the legal system for survivors after experiencing sexual assault herself.
Since its establishment in 2014, the organisation has played a pivotal role in the enactment of 42 federal laws. Presently, it aims to extend its influence worldwide, with initiatives such as organising survivor town halls at the United Nations and engaging in discussions with the Vatican. Models included survivors, allies and activists who walked down the runway to spotlight survivor’s rights. The Rise Survivor Fashion Show is now an annual part of the NYFW, held every year in September.
Forget-Me-Not is another organisation based in Poland which hosted a fashion show as a response to people who think clothes can provoke sexual violence. This is another example of fashion activism. Survivors walked down the runway in the clothes they were wearing when they were assaulted.
Fashion activism has emerged as a powerful vehicle for change, offering survivors of sexual assault a poignant platform to share their stories and challenge the pervasive victim-blaming culture. This innovative approach has humanised the discourse surrounding sexual violence, emphasising empowerment over blame.
Through events like the fashion shows hosted by organisations like Forget-Me-Not & Rise, survivors have courageously reclaimed their narratives by walking down runways in the very clothes they wore during their traumatic experiences. This act of defiance and resilience sends an important message: survivors refuse to be silenced or blamed for the actions of their perpetrators.
It represents a transformative shift in the conversation, emphasising that what someone wears should never be seen as a catalyst for harm. Instead, it stresses the importance of holding the perpetrators accountable and fostering a culture of support and empathy for survivors.
By providing a platform for survivors to share their stories and advocate for change, fashion activism has become a vital force in dismantling victim-blaming narratives and promoting a more compassionate and just society. This innovative and inclusive approach paves the way for meaningful progress in the ongoing fight against sexual violence.
Views expressed by the author are their own
Suggested Reading: Beating Male Leans, How Fashion And Feminism Can Go Hand In Hand