On 17th April I went to an ethical fashion and beauty event hosted by Southampton Solent University Fashion student, Anna Macken. The PR event, developed for part of Anna’s final major project, showcased four fantastic ethical fashion or beauty brands. Know the Origin and Willow Beauty both presented their products at the event, along with Deborah Campbell Atelier and Maison de Choup. Representing the latter two brands in person were the two respective founders, and listening to the two founders deliver talks to the audience, a common theme rose to the fore. Both were producing garments in a responsible manner, but, more than that, they both wanted to say something through their designs. Unlike some creative endeavours, these messages weren’t meant to be subtle fashion statements; both brands were using slogan tees to take a stand.
Slogan t-shirts aren’t new. Although Katharine Hamnet is often hailed responsible for popularising the radical slogan tee in the 1980s, clothing had been used to silently demonstrate political standing earlier than that. T-shirts are universal items: democratic, cheap, and unisex. They are the perfect canvas to communicate something more. High fashion designers were incorporating political ideas into their collections in the 1970s (think Vivienne Westwood) and more recently, Dior sent a model wearing a ‘We should all be feminists’ t-shirt down the catwalk, directly referencing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We should all be feminists’ book. It seems, when Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female artistic director of Dior in 2016 she wanted to make her mark. The feminist tee certainly did that, but not for all the right reasons (plenty complained about the undemocratic price tag of £500). That aside, Dior’s t-shirt perfectly encapsulated the mood of the moment. Clothing could once more be used to political effect.
Fortunately, Deborah Campbell Atelier and Maison de Choup come in at a more accessible price tag than Dior, and with a more interesting profile for that matter. Their founders are driven by purpose, integrity and creativity. After years working in the fast fashion industry, Deborah Campbell started her eponymous brand by producing beautiful printed dresses, tops and skirts drawing on the work of contemporary artists. Her current focus lies in statement t-shirts and charity collaborations. Deborah works with the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and Women’s Aid. The latter charity inspired her ‘Future Female’ campaign – a range of ‘Future Female’ tops and corresponding blog championing gender equality.
Deborah says: “Future Female promotes every day gender equality through conversation. I became aware of casual sexism, and soft mysogynistic behaviour after hearing Emma Watson launch the #heforshe campaign and I really started listening to every day conversation. And what I heard was, littered with casual sexism and stereotyping that holds women and men back. The need to change the everyday is key because I believe these small changes in behaviour and attitude will lead to bigger changes and women and men will begin to see freedom from gender in-equality and we will see humans evolve to be more united”.
The impact of everyday conversation can’t be underestimated. What we wear can be a conversation starter, and so can what we post on social media. Deborah has made the most of these platforms to create her own movement, using her fashion brand as a springboard. It’s a feature reflected in the mission of Maison de Choup. Maison de Choup, also at the Southampton event, was founded for a specific reason – not to produce fashion per se, but to lift the taboo on mental health. Conceived in 2014, Maison de Choup is the creation of George Hodgson – a young artist who found the strength to be able to draw something positive from his own struggles with mental health. T-shirts adorned with slogans such as ‘Warrior not worrier’ and ‘Words fail me’ have touched the hearts of many as the profile of mental health has increased in public discourse. Maison de Choup works with many charities and offers a percentage of proceeds to YoungMinds.
Both brands use organic cotton and ethical sourcing to develop their respective ranges. One might have expected them to talk about this at the ethical fashion event, but they didn’t. They didn’t because they have so much more to say than that. Sustainable sourcing was taken as a given, and these passionate founders want to use their products to say more. Fashion has always been a vehicle to communicate and it’s interesting to see true ethical fashion merge with other worthy causes. Whether you call it fashion, politics, ethics or culture, more and more of us (propelled by social media) are using clothing as a platform for debate. With this trend, ethical fashion is taking on a whole new meaning.