OZY on Fashion + Protest
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because dressing is expressing. So listen up.
Can we shop ourselves into a perfect world? In a little utopia within the fashion industry, all the fabrics are organic, all the wages are fair and all the clothes are good-looking. Whatever you call it — sustainable fashion, ethical clothing, slow fashion — this utopia was until recently pure fantasy. Some 70 percent of consumers say they’d pay more for ethically sourced clothes. But retailers, consultants and activists say sweeping change won’t come until big companies commit to sustainable supply chains.
When fighting erupted in Juba, South Sudan, last December between government forces and rebels loyal to an ousted vice president, it threatened to unravel everything the new country had built, both physically and culturally. One such cultural touchstone was Juba’s emerging fashion industry, led by designers such as Akuja de Garang. Her annual Festival of Fashion & Arts for Peace has drawn the attention of international press, which hailed her as one of South Sudan’s enterprising repats helping to define the new country’s cultural identity. Award-winning war photographer Ben Lowy shared some of his most stunning images — not of violence, but of fashion, and of one new country’s attempt to build beauty amid violence.
Dressing fabulously can be an act of creative self-expression — and an elegant form of protest. At first glance, La Sape — short for the “Society for the Advancement of Elegant People” — is a slightly surreal concept. After all, it’s not every day one sees men roaming the streets of a depressed, war-torn country dressed in candy-colored three-piece suits, bow ties and fedoras, which might seem frivolous in a country where just under half the population lives in poverty. But the movement aims to do more than help people forget their troubles. It has become a subtle form of social activism.