The Feminist Clothing & Accessories Dilemma & Why It's So Conflicting

As a fabulous, flamboyant kind of gal, I decided a long time ago that the concept of feminist fashion is very necessary. From the no holds barred, gender-bending butch looks I admire in others to the overly feminine weaponization of red lipstick that I personally love to utilize, even the act of dressing for ourselves and not for others feels like an act of opposition. But can feminist fashion ever be problematic? 

Although I've been only actively identified as a feminist for a few years, I often wonder if that's because the movement has only really hit our timelines in the last two years. Almost every week, a new article surfaces along the lines of, "This celebrity swears she isn't a feminist," or conversely, "This celebrity explains why it's ridiculous to not be a feminist." The popularity of feminist dialogue is never going to be a problem by my standards, though. The more publicity feminism gains, the more discussions and actions can come from it, right?

Recently, however, the world of retail has taken notice of feminism, too. Personally, I've never had a problem with the Etsy brand of feminism, because the people behind the products on sites like these aren't quickly cashing in on a current trend. Instead, the majority are hand-making goods to help spread the word. In the process, of course, they help themselves a little as well. It's actually incredibly inspiring to watch women allow their passion for politics make its way towards earning a living.

Queen Purple & Yellow Banner Quote Charm Necklace, $8, etsy.com

But when Urban Outfitters started selling paperback Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie essays and mega e-retailers began including articles about feminism on their blogs, I grew uncomfortable with this brand of feminism that was becoming mass marketed. Sure, if a person starts reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's work, then that must be a good thing — no matter how they came across it. But when a company that has caused controversies through cultural appropriation, mocking minorities, and ripping off artists' designs begins to cash out on the feminist movement, it kind of feels like a kick in the stomach. 

When it comes to books, it's arguably a lot more difficult to source from an independent retailer than to walk into a bookshop chain where you can get it for half the price and half the hassle. When the trend leaks into our clothing, however, things get a little more complicated. If you search "feminist" on a site like Etsy, you come up with over 1,000 items for accessories alone. And although bigger retail chains haven't reached these same levels yet, we seem to be heading towards a time when they will. 

Cats Against Cat Calls Ladies Shirt, $27, etsy.com

For example, when Petra Collins collaborated with American Apparel, I wanted the menstruating vagina T-shirt immediately. AA's ad campaigns involve pubic hairgay rights, and drag queens, which undoubtedly appeal to a youthful Millennial market that is becoming more and more aware and passionate about social justice issues. Behind the well marketed campaigns designed to sell feminism to its target market, however, American Apparel's advertisements have been accused of sexism and of sexualizing seemingly underage models. Founder Dov Charney even sexually harassed employees, and the company allegedly has a strict looks-based hiring policy.

One can't help but feel that when these bigger companies realize that feminism has become a trending topic for everybody — not just scholars — they will keep trying to turn the trend into cash flow, not actually caring about the message or the activists behind it. While it can be easily argued that it's a bad thing when people in power are allowed to profit off of the efforts of marginalized communities, however, it can also be argued that any publicity for the fight of marginalized identities is good publicity. 

I guess what it comes down to for me is this: If I want to declare my love for a social justice movement via T-shirts or necklaces, I would rather pay a bit more for a handmade piece of art that somebody just as passionate as I am has made.

Images: Changeability/Etsy; Courtesy Brands

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