“There was one night I found myself online for hours reading article after article, so heartbroken about the stories I came across,” says Parsons fashion design senior Angela Luna. “And then the next day, sitting in class, talking about something like Prada’s newest collection, I asked myself, ‘How we could all be sitting here as if nothing is happening and people aren’t dying on the other side of the world?'”
Luna’s reflecting on her thesis collection, a series of seven multipurpose garments aimed at aiding Syrian refugees. “In no way are these clothes the solution to the refugee crisis, but I do hope they can lessen the burden of these brave people,” she adds. The unisex collection features outerwear that turns into sleeping bags, backpacks, life vests, child carriers, camouflage and even tents, one of which can hold an entire family, and begs the question: Is fashion truly superfluous?
Fashion’s often deemed an industry of waste and excess. Currently, the textile industry is the second largest producer of pollutants in the world. Let’s not forget the countless human rights violations taking place in garment factories around the globe. The industry is no stranger to controversy. Though it has taken time to muster some form of accountability, things are beginning to shift. “With a world moving more toward breaking down cultural barriers, I think designers all over the world can be more engaged in what is going on,” Luna says.
More and more corporations are taking an activist approach to consumerism—giving a purpose to what was once deemed excessive and unnecessary. Nike recently announced that 71 percent of its apparel and footwear products used recycled material, and it seems new firms with missions rooted in humanitarianism are popping up all over the place. Interestingly enough, buzzwords like sustainability and responsibility are becoming commonalities not only in the existing industry, but also in fashion education. Parsons, the London College of Fashion, the School of the Art Institute Chicago and the Fashion Institute of Technology have all shifted their curriculum to make activism a major priority.
The crux of this shift comes with how pertinent global issues have become. People now, more than ever understand repercussions of their actions, not just locally, but on a global scale. With the rise of social media and online reporting, the world is a lot more connected—people can share their joy, as well as their tragedy. Actions extend far beyond immediate surroundings and can be seen instantaneously. Stella McCartney has been a leader in this regard, actively participating in the fight for animal rights and green production, but is it enough? Should money be the only medium for giving back? Can garments be humanitarian not just in representation, but in function?
Luna is one of many young designers proving that fashion is, and can be, a form of activism. The shallow foundation of the industry is crumbling. Garments no longer need be purely aesthetic. They can actually do some good. “I ignored what was going on in the world for a really long time, and know many people who are the same,” Luna says. “If this project convinces any of those people to open a newspaper, research online or even email their local government about the issue, my work is complete.”