Fashion Activism Might Be The Easiest (And Chicest) Way To Change The World Daily

Photo by Slow Factory

"Fashion is culture," says Céline Semaan, the founder of fashion tech lab Slow Factory. This simple fact is what fuels her line of eco-friendly, fair trade garments printed with poignant imagery and timely activist slogans.

It all started when Semaan, who used to work in image licensing, saw that NASA started making some of their photographs available in Creative Commons in 2014. One shot in particular—nighttime above the Gaza Strip, with rockets punctuating the dark sky, creating patches of light—struck a chord with Semaan, who is Palestinian. "I really wanted to bring it closer to people—and fashion was a way to do that." She downloaded the image, printed it onto silk scarves, and helped kick-start a new wave of what she calls #FashionActivism.

How Slow Factory uses fashion as a form of activism.

Photo: Slow Factory

Today, take a visit to the Slow Factory website and you'll see this scarf (though it's sold out right now) alongside an ever-expanding line of pieces that represent some of the most pressing social environmental issues of our time—scarves and necklaces that depict endangered and extinct animal species, a flight jacket with the Declaration of Independence written in Arabic. The unique brand has graced not only fashion runways but United Nations exhibitions and art museums, too.

As for how she decides what to depict next, Semaan says, "It's a mix between the image inspiring a cause and the cause inspiring the image." She's partnered with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and World Wildlife Foundation to give them a percentage of proceeds so that each purchase can make a concrete statement in addition to a symbolic one.

Originally a cult brand among NASA employees and people in the tech space, Semaan has noticed more and more millennials drawn to Slow Factory as a brand that aligns with their values. One scroll through the #fashionactivism Instagram hashtag, and you'll find thousands of posts by people of all races, religions, and creeds using their clothes as a source of power.

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How to become a fashion activist.

Photo: Slow Factory

Amid a news cycle increasingly bombarded with bad news, Slow Factory wants to make fashion a sort of antidote—ironic, considering that, for many, the industry has historically been a source of elitism and environmental degradation. According to Semaan, the most meaningful way you can become a fashion activist is by asking two simple questions: Who made my clothes? And how did they make them?

"It's about knowing exactly where your pieces are coming from. If you're wearing a shirt that says 'we should all be feminists' and it's coming from a fast fashion company, chances are it's a bit hypocritical," she says. "The women who made that T-shirt aren't really being considered under this statement."

You can shop with an activist's eye by looking for brands that are Fair Trade certified, like Semaan's, meaning they pay living wages to everyone involved and take steps to reduce the environmental impact of the production process by cutting back on water use, reducing chemicals used, etc. As for mainstream brands championing best production practices, Semaan points to these companies:

  • G-Star Raw: One of the only denim brands to earn the coveted Cradle to Cradle certification, which highlights brands that think about a garment's entire life cycle. G-Star jeans are made of 100 percent organic cotton and metal buttons instead of zippers, so they can be broken down and made into another garment.
  • Eileen Fisher: "She's leading the way in sustainable fashion and direct-to-consumer awareness today," Semaan says.
  • Mara Hoffman: The designer is creating capsule collections that eschew trends in favor of pieces that will last a lifetime.
  • Studio One Eighty Nine: Actress Rosario Dawson's new brand gives proceeds to community-led projects in Africa and the United States.
  • VEJA: A line of fair trade, vegan sneakers
  • Behno: A leather goods company with high ethical standards

As new brands experiment with ways to lessen the fashion industry's environmental footprint, it's exciting to see the social impact of clothes being considered in meaningful ways, too. After all, truly ethical fashion is beneficial for both people and planet.

Next up, check out how this innovative T-shirt company wants to change fast fashion's waste problem. And if you're in LA, pop over to Semaan's upcoming fashion activism gathering later this month!

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