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Fashion brands need to do more than just pay for abortion travel

By Jackie Mallon

30 Jun 2022

Fashion |Opinion

Flyer for abortion rights rally NYC by leftvoice.org media kit

The fashion world must take a stronger stand against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V Wade as 13 states begin maneuvers to enact a near total ban on abortion. Companies from Patagonia to Chloe, Levi's to Target, have communicated their commitment to pay for the travel of employees seeking abortion. Looking at these offers in isolation they seem generous. But isn’t it adding insult to injury that women need to shuffle, cap in hand, to disclose their private medical business to their employer who, due to the industry’s gender disparity in senior roles, is likely to be a man? It’s another massive blow to a woman’s self-governance at a tough life moment when she may already be feeling emotionally vulnerable.

After the Supreme Court's decision, Levi's released the following statement: “Protection of reproductive rights is a critical business issue impacting our workforce, our economy, and progress toward gender and racial equity. Given what is at stake, business leaders need to make their voices heard and act to protect the health and well-being of our employees.”

Yes, let's look at this as a business issue. According to McKinsey women spend 3 times more on clothing than men. But the fashion business has not been kind to women. In no other industry has a woman’s body been more scrutinized or dissected. For years our industry caused women to feel invisible due to its elitism. Only recently have brands opened up their sizing to include women who are larger than a size 12 or to cast diverse models in ad campaigns and runway shows. Anna Wintour, a businesswoman ne plus ultra, has the ear of the most important figures in finance, culture, tech and politics, both domestically and internationally. Is she brainstorming with members of the CFDA right now? With some thinking outside the box, the fashion industry has the means to undermine this gruesome governmental overreach.

Post-pandemic, brands must now lead against new abortion healthcare crisis

Just as brands mobilized their operations to manufacture PPE equipment for health workers during the pandemic, can we expect equally practical measures to combat this new health crisis? For example, fashion loves a pop-up and a collab. Can brands work with the healthcare and medical fields to establish pop-up abortion clinics immediately inside state lines for those coming from elsewhere? The industry regularly builds stadium-scale sets for runway shows that last approximately 12 minutes. Fendi held a runway show on the Great Wall of China. A pop-up clinic doesn't seem out of the question.

Author's own

Men are behind 100 percent of all pregnancies. Place vasectomies front and center of ad campaigns. In the endless loop of discussion on abortion, this highly effective method of birth control is rarely addressed. Make vasectomies fashionable.

Planned Parenthood's branding is in the exact same shade of pink as Valentino used for its entire Fall/Winter 2022-23 fashion show. That was a missed opportunity for the luxury label. How about a capsule collab when it hits stores with all profits going to the organization?

None of this would be enough, but it would be a start.

This week a CBS/You Gov poll showed that 59 percent of Americans, and 67 percent of women, wanted Roe V Wade to remain the law of the land. Yet more than half the states in the US have already or are likely to ban abortion and many are already taking measures to prevent women from crossing state lines for the procedure. Estimates show that 40 million women will be unable to access abortion in their own state. This is a rubber-meets-road calamity and fashion must play an outsized role in the resistance. A financial hit is the only one that will have an impact. Brands should close stores and offices, and move headquarters, from those states moving forward with bans.

In 2018 when Nike released a campaign in support of Colin Kaepernick with the slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” Nike fans were burning their shoes on social media. But despite an immediate dip in its share price, profits were up 30 percent the following year, and the sneaker giant has topped the list of most valuable brands ever since. A 2020 study by Harvard Business Review concluded that public opinion of a company dropped 33 percent when it was revealed the company had conservative values.

“Kering and its brands stand against all forms of violence against women. We support the freedom of women to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives,” reads an Instagram post from the parent company of Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent. These kind of statements are all too common yet entirely insufficient. With great power comes great responsibility. For decades the 1.7 trillion dollar fashion industry overlooked its labor abuses against black and brown female garment workers overseas. This blistering attack on women's rights happening here on home soil will also impact minority women the most. Will this industry so dependent on women continue to turn its head?

Women love fashion but is it our ally? We use fashion as a means to express our independence and individuality. But this sweeping decree by the religious extremists of the Supreme Court treats us collectively as second class citizens, nothing more than a monolithic uterus. We wear fashion to attract romantic partners, but lack of access to abortion is the ultimate passion killer. Fashion can be empowering but, right now, many of us are feeling helpless. We display our values in slogans printed across our chests but If we don’t have agency over our own bodies, slogans are empty. We wear brand logos to demonstrate our loyalty, now where is the brand’s loyalty to us? We don’t need ribbons, pussy hats, pantsuit parties or tote bags. We don’t need the fleeting dopamine boost of retail therapy. We need radical and meaningful support.

Author's own

We didn’t realize that reproductive rights were a luxury that could be ripped from us at any moment. Now the danger is real and present, and resting in the hands of state lawmakers. Next to an Instagram post from Kenneth Cole with a photograph of a sign that read “Choice. No woman should be without it,” the designer added the caption, “This isn’t over.” And he’s right. Contraception, interracial marriage, same sex marriage. No one is safe. The LGBTQ+ community is another that has significantly propped up the fashion industry. It is time for the industry to invest in those who have invested so much in it.

Money must stop flowing for anyone to notice. Maybe we should stop buying fashion altogether. In its No New Clothes Pledge, the non-profit sustainability-focused organization, Remake, asks us to hit pause on our clothes shopping for 90 days. If we all went on shopping strike, that would get their attention.

Rest assured, as we rise from the rubble, we’re looking beyond politicians and governments. We know it’s time for new leaders to emerge. Fashion is supposed to be ahead of the time. All we’re asking is for it to meet the moment.

abortion rights
fashion and politics
Roe V Wade