Ethical Fashion As Radical Resistance
I grew up in a very politically active family. Some of my earliest memories are canvassing for Bill Clinton in our neighborhood. My family threw fundraisers for local judges and phone banked for our governor. As kids we were expected to not only participate in these events, but know why we supported these people. My mother especially encouraged us to learn the issues and we’d have lively debates on my drive to school. The core political value my parents wanted to instill in us was the importance of caring for everyone. Education for all. Health Care for all. Justice for all. They believed in unions and the dignity of every creature on this planet.
I took that message to heart and still consider it my guiding principle in life. Everything in my life revolves around this core value. But as I’ve gotten older and politics has become more contentious I’ve found it more difficult to be active in politics the way I used to. While I care even more deeply today, I also don’t have the temperament for marches and angry arguments on facebook. The anger and sadness I feel when someone says “All lives matter”, makes me physically sick and stays with me for days. I used to love to debate politics, but our political conversations today aren’t about how to balance our budget or what resolutions are being passed in the UN, they’re about basic human rights. They’re about whether or not to even recognize people as human beings~ Seeing someone deny another person’s humanity is one of the most painful things I’ve experienced. It leaves me flabbergasted, horrified, and so incredibly sad. And so...I’ve stopped debating.
But that too feels wrong. How can I bury my head in the sand when people are suffering? That is a privileged position beauty, and I strive to check my privilege on the reg. Heck, the whole point of compassion fashion is to value the life and dignity of others. How can I promote that on my Instagram and here on the blog, and yet not practice it in my daily life? It hurts to debate it hurts to do nothing.
But then dear readers, yet again, fashion saved the day! It all went down on the 4th of July. The 4th of July is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I love the fireworks and barbeque. I love hanging with friends. But I’m 25% Native American no amount of fireworks will make me forget that the 4th of July celebrates people who sanctioned and carried out the genocide of my ancestors. And this year was even harder, because as everyone waved their flags and sang God Bless America children were still in cages all across our southern border.
We were invited to a father’s friends house to celebrate and I really really wanted to go. But I also really really didn’t. I knew that going would also mean I couldn’t talk about my mixed feelings. I now live in a deeply conservative area and unless I wanted to cause a scene, it was best to keep my mouth shut. And so my old dilemma came back to haunt me. How do I participate, but stay true to my values? How can I protest without causing a scene? How can I protest without getting into a situation that will throw me into a panic attack?
Fashion babes. Fashion!
I would go, but I would honor my values at the party. I put on my Mexican hupil in protest of the children in cages at our border. I wore my hair in braids to honor my Indigenous ancestors. I painted my nails red for the blood of all the black and brown bodies killed in this country. At a party of all red white and blue, there I stood brown and proud. No scenes were caused. No angry words were exchanged. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone even noticed and I doubt anyone had a clue what it all meant if they did. But I didn’t wear those clothes for them, I wore them for me. I wore them because I may not be able to march in the streets, but that doesn’t mean I will stay silent. My very existence is an act of resistance.
Since then I’ve discovered more ways to silently protest through fashion. I’ve worn all black to mourn the death of yet another black woman killed for simply being a black woman. I’ve worn pink and blue to support my trans brothers and sisters. Physically embodying your values through fashion is powerful. When I wear clothing that sends a message I walk through the world with my head held just a little higher.
Our clothes have meaning. When we buy fast fashion we’re saying that a fleeting trend is more important than enslaved people who made them. When we wear polyester we’re saying screw the environment. On the other hand, wearing recycled polyester says you love the ocean. Carrying a bag made by an Indigenous Women’s collective in Guatemala says “heck yeah I support Indigenous cultures!”. Our clothes let the world know exactly who we are and what we stand for. What do you want to say with your clothes?