Beyond Branding: Fashion Fighting Xenophobia and Racism

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Make America Great Again’, or its evolution, ‘Keep America Great Again’, can be found scattered across seas of bright red baseball caps at stadium-filling rallies. Trump is a brand, his customers also his supporters. They buy into his brand for his supposed authenticity. A businessman and celebrity, not a typical politician, his tweets and speeches run off-script into repetition and rambles. Unafraid of controversy, his rhetoric is increasingly toxic, with pledges to build a border wall, to place ‘America first’, as his fans chant along to his familiar choruses, commonplace. These are not empty words – migrant children are snatched from their parents, to be locked in cages. 

Fashion crosses borders – it is a show of culture and identity – and public visibility and endorsement of pro-immigrant messages within the industry certainly contribute to this political debate. However, you may express cynicism regarding the authenticity of politicised brands. Who designs, produces and profits from fashion that is branded as pro-immigration? As with rainbow capitalism profiting from LGBTQIA+ acceptance, are companies simply seeking to financially gain from a cause they deem to be merely the latest fad?

Kids of Immigrants (KOI) is a brand centred on the founders’ identities as first-generation Americans. Witnessing children at the border that he felt could have been him, Daniel Buezo sought to raise $8,500 to expand Border Angels’ Tijuana shelter. The non-profit organisation rescues, provides water to, educates and legally advises migrants escaping countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Alongside a GoFundMe, KOI launched a hoodie with vintage styling, emblazoned with messages of ‘love has no borders’ and ‘spread love’, to raise funds for this cause. For the photographic launch, musician Lorely Rodriquez paired the hoodie with a floor-length skirt, paying tribute to a floral and voluminous Honduran style.

Similarly, Chnge’s bold graphic t-shirts carry messages such as ‘no human is illegal on stolen land’, alluding to the settlement of land seized from Native Americans. Another tee, black and full length, empowers all intersections of society: “Gay power, black power, woman power, student power, trans power, immigrant power, all power to the people”. The brand purports to practice what it preaches, with their factory workers paid a living wage, trained in money management and represented by workers’ committees that negotiate with managers.

Meanwhile, Awake NY’s white t-shirt, produced in collaboration with Chroma, states on its front in red lettering, in either English or Spanish, ‘Protect People, Not Borders‘. Anyone detained by the US’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (I.C.E) ought to know their rights, which are also listed in both English and Spanish. These include: ‘the right to say you want to speak to an attorney. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right against unlawful searches by ICE agents. You don’t have to sign any documents. You have the right to not open the door’. All profits made from the sale of this t-shirt fund Al Otro Lado and Casa Arcoiris. Al Otro Lado aids migrants at the US’ border with Mexico medically and legally, whilst Casa Arcoiris focuses on supporting LGBTQIA+ migrants in Tijuana.

Hija De Tu Madre, a proudly Latina brand, also takes aim at the US’ immigration enforcement agency. 20% of the profits from their swirly red-lettered ‘F**k ICE’ tee are distributed to Border Kindness, who aim to ‘identify, protect and nurture the most vulnerable’ at the Mexican border. Meanwhile, Opening Ceremony, a brand inspired by the Olympics, showcases particular cultures in their stores. In 2016 they supported Kids In Need Of Defence, a group looking out for one of the most vulnerable groups of migrants – unaccompanied children.

Designer Prabal Gurung was born in Singapore, grew up in Nepal and India, and has since lived across the globe. He first studied, then worked, in America, before becoming a US citizen. A percentage of the proceeds from his 2017 Autumn/Winter collection, which includes ‘I am an immigrant‘ and ‘Break Down Walls‘ t-shirts, were sent to the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and Shikshya Foundation Nepal.

Warby Parker, a prescription eyewear provider in New York, entered the immigration debate in 2017, declaring support for the New York Attorney’s lawsuit against the US President’s closure of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was established during Obama’s Presidency. Those who passed vetting were legally able to live, study and work in the US. This allowed further contestation of deportation for illegal immigrants who had arrived as children. David Gilboa who co-founded Warby Parker came to America aged six, so when he heard of DACA’s revocation he felt that ‘staying silent wasn’t an option’.

Artist and businesswoman Rihanna has also used her celebrity status to hit out at the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant stance. Tagging the US President on Instagram, she posed alongside a group of diverse women, holding out a t-shirt from her Fenty brand with ‘immigrant’  printed across it. Rihanna, who was born in Barbados, declared that ‘for me, it’s a prideful word‘, and that she recognised the struggle of ‘a million Rihannas out there, getting treated like dirt’. Her social media post, although only captioned with a waving hand to the President, appeared to be a direct response to a tweet from Trump, in which he threatened to begin deportations.

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Politics Editor 2019/20 Studying Politics & International Relations

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