The fashion industry is a symbol of revolution, especially in portraying the history of black people and their never-ending catastrophe of brutality.
“I can’t breathe” stormed the internet and made us confront our conscience and question the very existence of humanity in 2020. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the world reeked of disappointment and hatred towards racism and took it to the street’s despite the deadly pandemic. Social media was flooded with posts and tweets expressing grief at the loss of a black life due to police brutality. But, doesn’t this ring a bell?
The #BLM has been an ongoing movement for black individuals fighting for freedom, liberation and justice. With the death of George Floyd, social media influencers and fashion brands have unified to stand against racism, but are we entirely investing in understanding- not appropriating- their culture?
The fashion industry in itself is a world full of creations that does not shy away from displaying who they really are. An industry renowned for global popularity and economic success, it holds the power to influence a million hearts. I think that a fashion statement goes far beyond just showing off and reflects upon an individual’s beliefs. Popular shoe brand, Nike, posted ‘For once, don’t do it’ on its social media channels to extend support and point out the gravity of this matter. Besides unifying through virtual platform, brewing designer like ASAI donated all profits from his latest work ‘Hot Wok Dress’ to Black Lives Matters.
Kerby Jean-Raymond is unlike many designers as he let’s his fashion speak out loud in times of depleting humanity. Beyond just creating an exhibition for clothes, Mr. Jean-Raymond’s politically inclined, rich designs narrates a combined tale of his personal experiences as a black designer and the growing brutality against black lives. Pyer Moss, a simple streetwear brand, has more intricacy in demonstrating culture and drawing references towards socio-political movements. One such unforgettable Kerby Jean-Raymond’s design is the 2016 Pyer Moss Spring collection from New York Fashion Week.
Kerby is one among the ambitious fashion designers that redefine the outlook of the fashion industry to highlight struggles and contributions from the black community. He staged a walk to depict the history of police brutality against black lives. His clothes are not illogical screams but a display of emotions. In one interview with Fashionista, Mr. Jean-Raymond stated:
“If we spark one mind, one change in the room, somebody who just gets it and is going to out and be kind to somebody or just give somebody an opportunity regardless of the colour of their skin… that’s essentially what we are trying to achieve with this.”
When fashion is an obligation rather than a marketing gimmick, there is an essence of responsibility that comes with it. Jean-Raymond is a pioneer of this notion. The Black Lives Matter runway featured words like: “MY DEMONS WON TODAY IM SORRY” that educated people on activist MarShawn McCarrel who committed suicide on 8th February 2016 for activity rooted in race relations, that was a throwback worth reminding the feeble minds that tend to forget. His best creation is, “They Have Names” T-shirt with names of those who are victims to police brutality enunciated the kind of fashion we need, the one that opens a continuous dialogue between one’s own inner conscious.
His fashion walk began with a 12-minute video titled, ‘This is an intervention’ that featured interviews with relatives of those black people that saw the end of light due to police brutality: Eric Garner (17th July 2017), Marlon Brown (8th May 2013) to name a few. Jean-Raymond is a living example of using buzzwords, ‘Diversity and Inclusion’, correctly within the fashion industry. A world that is bickering away to division of colour, Jean-Raymond uses multi-coloured clothing to gracefully educate a controversial topic like racism in calm demeanour.
His work screams of unsung heroes within the black community that deserve a platform for celebration. For instance, Pyer Moss Spring 2020 creations, called ‘Sister’, depicted the history of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a black queer woman who is regarded as the founder of ’Rock n roll’. To celebrate her, he reached out to Richard Phillips, a black artist who was wrongfully imprisoned in Michigan jail for 46 years, as well as Sean Combs, the first black designer to win a Council of Fashion Designer of America award. Mr. Jean-Raymond doesn’t just sew clothes, he engraves meaning into the fabric of clothing.
Speaking through fashion is not propaganda but a bold step towards embarking on change. There have been numerous brands reaching out with donations during times of crisis, but it is hard to visualise such gestures as genuine. Most brands like, Gucci, Saint Laurent and Prada, the biggest fashion conglomerates, have pledged their solidarity towards Black Lives Matter online. However, Gucci had a scandal in 2019 for selling sweaters that resembled blackface images and in 2018, Prada removed figurines from window displays for being called out for resembling black caricatures.
Antoine Gregory, fashion consultant and archivist based in NY voiced his opinion on Dazed that: “What I’ve noticed in this industry is that until Black consumers make a loud enough effort to be heard, brands will absolutely remain silent.”
Fashion houses needless of a social media image must practice including more black artists and designers to build their reputation. As a writer of colour, I am aware of the emotional turmoil of the affected minds in advent of discrimination. It is imperative to stand on the right side of justice. Taking inspiration from independent designers like Mr. Jean-Raymond himself, brands can be the face of those unheard voices aching to rise above injustice. Beyond just posting clothes that resonate no inner meaning, stitching clothes for uplifting the oppressed is the era to begin.
Literally and metaphorically.
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