Before last week, Maxwell Osborne had never participated in a protest of any kind. The 33-year-old designer for Public School and DKNY had worked for years in the fashion industry, where politics often take a backseat to production. Last week, that all changed for Osborne. In an open letter for W magazine, he laid out the facts:
“As a black man in an overwhelmingly white industry, race is never far from my mind.”
But fashion is fashion, it’s about decadence, opulence, luxury. It’s not about politics, right?
Fashion has had a history of giving a voice to causes that other industries chose to ignore. The most exciting lines are always a breath of fresh air: Personal, aspirant, and provocative. With each new Instagram-famous designer breaking on to the scene, fashion begins to feel more and more like a political platform, a soapbox from which young people can voice their opinions, their hopes for change. Public figures like Beyonce and Lady Gaga have always used fashion to make larger political statements. Even Kylie Jenner just came out with a nail polish line designed to curb teen bullying.
Fashion has always been about more than just display—so why does the industry choose to remain silent when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement?
Presumably for the sames seasons Osborne was before this week. What can fashion really say about this brutality that surrounds us in news forms with each passing day? What can it really do?
It can start by speaking up, mobilizing. And finally–fundraising.
“Fashion is always at its best when it looks outside of itself for inspiration and holds up a mirror to society.” Osborne wrote, acknowledging the historical link between fashion and activism, particularly its crucial involvement in fundraising for the AIDS epidemic and Breast Cancer research. He’s right to remind us. Fashion has always been a huge force, assembling all the most influential people in our society to contribute to social change. One of the industry’s greatest strength is its ability to mobilize. And that’s exactly what it should be doing now, in this time of crisis.
Let’s hope Osborne’s words are listened to—and actually heard.