Is Voting Merch Necessary? 4 Fashion Designers Weigh In

Unless you live outside of the United States or off-the-grid, it should come as no surprise that the next presidential election is at the forefront of the minds of millions of Americans. And while some may gaff at the idea of a fashion site getting into politics, the truth of the matter is that fashion is political—it always has been. 

On a larger-scale, the fast-fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Historically, fashion has played a role in every civil rights movement, including the Women’s suffrage movement. And on an individual level, it impacts how transgender and disabled, and every other marginalized community member approaches personal style. Don’t get me wrong here, fashion is fun; but to deny how it impacts every part of society is naive. As the industry has reckoned with its complicity towards racism and ecological impact; it’s time it also assesses and redefines its role in standing up for its consumers’ beliefs through politics. 

Of course, in many ways, the fashion industry has already stepped up to this moment with the boom of voting merch. From Christian Siriano’s spring 2021 runway show with looks splashed in the word “Vote” to Stuart Weitzman’s 5050 vote boots, there are so many chic ways that voting has been stitched into the current cultural conversation. But the question remains: How can we know if a fashion brand isn’t just hopping on creating voter merch to profit from off conscious consumers?

In search of that answer, we spoke with four designers in which activism is baked into their brand ethos on why they decided to design merchandise to promote voting. Ahead, you’ll see why it’s more important than ever for the fashion industry not only to take a stand. Sure, a t-shirt won’t solve everything, but encouraging consumers to shop and vote according to their values come November 3, and every election day to come is a start.

Aurora James, Founder & Creative Director of Brother Vellies; Founder, Fifteen Percent Pledge

What inspired you to create merchandise for Brother Vellies to help get out the vote in 2020?

AJ: I stand by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I believe they will restore and unite the soul of our nation. These items are an offering, a blend of our collective hope, passion, and belief in a world that can look a lot brighter than it is today; this sweatshirts, sneakers, and socks from Brother Vellies is one small way I can energize people to get out there and vote for this ticket.

Why do you think it’s crucial for your brand to promote voting this year through clothing?

AJ: This is a crucial year; there’s so much at stake. I don’t think it’s vital that it be promoted through fashion, but it’s one way that I know I can help raise awareness and funds for important causes.

There’s a common misconception that fashion isn’t political—do you agree or disagree? And why?

 AJ: Fashion has never not been political. From women beginning to wear pants and flat shoes to burning their bras to Michelle Obama committing to wearing so many American designers, fashion has always had a voice. I am lucky to have a very engaged community, and I think with that opportunity, it would be irresponsible for me not to speak out about my beliefs. I have chosen to align my brand with specific values, and that alone can be political.

What duty do you feel the fashion industry has to address what’s happening in politics and the world?

AJ: I wouldn’t tell others what to do, but many of us have a strong voice and dedicated communities ready to listen to what we say. Why not use that voice to encourage voting? 

We’ve seen many brands jump on the voting merch bandwagon; how do you think we can ensure that these collections have long-term positive implications?

AJ: The exciting thing is that voting is always important, not just during the Presidential elections. Voting is a luxury, a luxury that is unfortunately not accessible to everyone. We should all exercise the right to vote during the mid-terms and local elections as well

When it comes to the future of fashion, do you think consumers will care more and more about conscious fashion?

AJ: I think these times we’re living in have influenced how people spend their money now. It is no longer business as usual. Consumers are giving real thought to how they use their purchasing power, and they want to spend money with companies who are thinking about more than the bottom line. As an industry, I hope that we continue to evaluate what business as usual looks like and start thinking more about our supply chain, how we are treating the people we work with, and what imagery we are putting out there to inspire people to shop. Many of what we have seen in the past are images that inadvertently make people feel less than, and I think we should try to focus instead on uplifting our community to feel like the best versions of themselves. That is what meaningful change looks like.

In what ways have you seen personal style and political statements intersect over the past few years?

AJ: I think it’s great to see so many people wearing items with political statements with ease.

Are there any specific politicians you think are using their fashion or beauty choices to communicate their beliefs thoughtfully?

AJ: We should evaluate our politician’s beliefs on more than just their fashion or beauty choices.

A portion of every pair sold goes towards When We All Vote. A non-profit, nonpartisan organization on a mission to increase participation in every election and close the race and age voting gap by changing the culture around voting. 

Alexandra Waldman, Co-Founder, Creative Director, Universal Standard  

What inspired you to create merchandise to help get out the vote in 2020 for Universal Standard? 

As a brand built upon access and inclusivity, we feel compelled to use our platform to contribute to the conversation around voting and support efforts to expand access to the ballot box. It’s a way for all voices to be heard and counted. It’s also a way for us to enact change and be active in constructing our future. Since we are a fashion brand, it made sense to include our “ALL OF US. AS WE ARE” tag line to create the Vote With US capsule collection.  

Why do you think it’s crucial your brand promotes voting this year through clothing? 

As a mission-driven brand, we have an opportunity to use our platform to encourage voting and focus attention on this historic election. Voting is essential for all of us and is the ultimate expression of inclusion. The same goes for your clothing choices and style. As a company that strongly believes in inclusivity, this choice was obvious for us.  

What duty do you feel the fashion industry has to address what’s happening in politics and the world? 

Fashion is a language, a voice, and often – a declaration of belief. A fashion brand has access to multitudes through multiple platforms. Few brands these days are fiddling while Rome burns. Whether it’s pressing national politics, the environment, labor practices, gender politics, access, or the fundamental physical safety of those working in the industry, it is unconscionable not to have a perspective and a roadmap to improvement.

There’s a common misconception that fashion isn’t political—do you agree or disagree? And why? 

Of course, fashion is political! It is both a force and a reflection of the times and the changes happening in the world. Think of the miniskirt, punk rock, the preppy era; all reflect changing socio-political tides and have a direct connection to shifting norms, acceptances, and forms of protest.  At the moment, all you have to do is look at the number of brands producing campaigns and products to raise awareness and funds around voting. It is quite literally clothing manifesting a political conscience.

Why should people in fashion care about politics? How are they related in your eyes? 

The relationship could not be more fundamental. ‘People in fashion’ are people first and foremost. It isn’t possible to be a citizen of the world in our time and not care about the changes in politics affect. To share information locally, nationally, and globally to promote our planet’s health and the dignity and rights of all of us is not just the responsibility of our industry but an enormous privilege.

In what ways have you seen personal style and political statements intersect over the past few years? 

Everything is political, and at the very least, we all participate by voting with our wallets. What you wear and who you buy from has a political impact and actual bearing on social change. 

We’ve seen many brands jump on the voting merch bandwagon; how do you think we can ensure that these collections have long-term positive implications? 

This is about being heard— about adding to the voice for change. Regardless of who ends up in an office, our work ensures size equality, access, diversity, and representation continues. As you rightly pointed out, one timely collection rarely does anything to move the needle. We are continually working on projects with partners who see things as we do. We are always thinking of ways to break barriers, unite the divided, and give back to our community. 

Can you remember what you wore the first time you voted? And even if you’re voting by-mail, will you have an election-day ensemble this year? 

I will be watching everything unfold before, during, and after the election, wearing the Universal Standard Vote With US sweatshirt and joggers. 

When it comes to the future of fashion, do you think consumers will care more and more about conscious fashion? 

Absolutely, as a brand, we are very well aware of ‘fashion waste,’ and ‘fast fashion’ is one of the industry’s biggest problems. This is why we launched our sustainability initiative Reset, Recycle, Refresh in September. The initiative encourages consumers to shop smarter by recycling their old clothing through an exchange for a discount. We partnered with Marimole, which specializes in recycling textile waste. The initiative was very well received within our community and introduced the brand to a new impact-driven consumer base that is very aware and ecoconscious.

Are there any specific politicians you think are using their fashion or beauty choices to communicate their beliefs thoughtfully? 

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand wore a headscarf after the Christchurch mosque attack to console her country’s Muslim community. She is not Muslim, and she was merely wearing a scarf, but the impact, empathy, and show of defiance and solidarity was epic at that moment!

Suzanne Lerner, Co-founder, and President of Michael Stars

What inspired you to create merchandise to help get out the vote in 2020 for Michael Stars? 

SL: Michael Stars has always been a purpose-driven brand. Through our foundation, we’ve consistently supported causes and organizations that work towards bettering society and amplifying women & girls’ voices. Voting has always been at the forefront for us. We made voting tees and baby onesies back in 2018 for the midterms and this year we were so excited to partner with Gloria Steinem for the #TheTeeInVote capsule. 

Why do you think it’s crucial your brand promotes voting this year through clothing? 

SL: Clothing is a way to wear your values and by marketing the importance of voting through the #TheTeeInVote campaign with Gloria, we were able to support and help amplify the work of three incredible, women-led organizations: Black Voters Matter, Voto Latino, and March On. 

There’s a common misconception that fashion isn’t political—do you agree or disagree? And why? 

SL: Disagree! The reality is that fashion is an expression and symbol of our beliefs and passions. It’s at the heart of every major social movement and can send a strong visual message instantly—like a group of congresswomen wearing Suffragette white at the State of the Union this year to draw attention to gender equality, or the invasion of the pink pussy hats in Washington, DC during the Women’s March.

What duty do you feel the fashion industry has to address what’s happening in politics and the world? 

SL: Our industry can lead the way toward gender and racial equality. Only 14% of fashion brands are run by women. That has to change. But, our duty also extends beyond that. Fashion is not just about what the consumer buys and wears. It’s about the complex process involved in producing our collection from design until production. As an intersectional company that employs over 80% of women, we have always been committed to producing in our hometown of Los Angeles, providing workers living wages, health insurance, and more.

Why should people in fashion care about politics? How are they related in your eyes? 

SL: Political and social issues are intertwined with the fashion industry. On the business side, there are issues like import/export duties and tariffs or fair wages and safe working environments. On the consumer side, you may find that your brand is being adopted or co-opted as a symbol for a movement or idea. Because inevitably, every company will land in the middle of a political battle whether they want to or not. That’s why we have been very clear about what Michael Stars stands for. 

 

We’ve seen many brands jump on the voting merch bandwagon. How do you think we can ensure that these collections have long-term positive implications? 

SL: Actually, none of this is really about merch. It’s about committing to being part of positive change. And it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon—one that we’ve been involved in since the start of the company.  We’ve got more motivation than ever to keep up the movement towards racial and gender equality and are hard at work on next year’s strategy.

In what ways have you seen personal style and political statements intersect over the past few years? 

SL: I don’t think a movement can be recognized and become widely known as a movement without fashion. In 2018, there was #MeToo movement which was embraced on Oscar’s red carpet. Last year, we had thousands of women—and men too!—who supported our “Feminism is for Everybody” tee that amplified the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Can you remember what you wore the first time you voted? And even if you’re voting by-mail, will you have an election-day ensemble this year? 

SL: It was the early ‘70s and I was working as a secretary in Chicago. I was either wearing a Gunne Sax floral prairie dress or a striped T-shirt and jeans that I had embroidered. This year, I will be wearing a similar outfit: jeans and a Michael Stars vote tee!

When it comes to the future of fashion, do you think consumers will care more and more about conscious fashion? 

SL: 100 percent. The future is here. I’ve seen a lot of research that says that more than 60% of Generation Z (the kids who are educating their parents on the climate crisis and social justice)  prefer to buy from sustainable brands. That approach has always been part of our DNA, focusing on fabrics like Supima cotton and linen, and making our garments locally.

Are there any specific politicians you think are using their fashion or beauty choices to communicate their beliefs thoughtfully?

SL: There are many activists who’ve used fashion well. As far as politicians, a recent example is Wendy Davis, who is now running for Congress in Texas. She made history in fashion and politics by introducing the pink running shoe to the floor of the Texas State Senate and standing in them for more than 13 hours during her epic filibuster in protest of a bill that contained stiff restrictions on reproductive rights in Texas. What do people remember about her most? Her pink Mizuno tennis shoes!

Sales will benefit incredible grassroots organizations, led by women of color, working to increase voter registration and turnout, ensuring all voices are heard during this critical election: Black Voters MatterVoto Latino, and March On

Meredith Melling, Co-Founder of La Ligne

What inspired you to create merchandise to help get out the vote in 2020 for La Ligne?

MM: We launched La Ligne in the spring leading up to the 2016 presidential election. As a brand-new brand, we were hesitant to take a stand politically before really getting to know our customers first. But as three female founders who felt very passionately about the election and what was at stake, we decided that La Ligne was a natural extension of us, and we had to get involved. So, we created our limited edition Je Suis Avec Elle tee, which was the first of many politically and philanthropically motivated La Ligne products.

We are days away from one of the most critical elections of our lifetime, so we once again decided to get involved. We teamed up with a friend of the brand and La Bande member, Cleo Wade, to create VOTE masks and T-shirts and donated 100% sales to Fair Fight. A few weeks later, we launched our Je Suis Voter sweater, a nod to our 2016 style, and contributed 30% of sales to I am a Voter.

Why do you think it’s crucial your brand promotes voting this year through clothing?

MM: We cannot message enough about the importance of voting, whether on our products or our website. We partnered with Fashion our Future 2020 and have added a call-to-action banner located on La Ligne’s homepage that allows customers to check voter registration, register to vote, complete the census, and stay informed on upcoming critical dates right on our website. Just as importantly, with all of our voting focused products, we’ve been able to make substantial donations to organizations like Fair Fight, and I am a Voter that is doing critical work to ensure that every person’s right to vote is protected. 

What duty do you feel the fashion industry has to address what’s happening in politics and the world?

MM: I think the fashion industry has influence and reach, and I applaud the brands, content creators, and influencers who use their platforms to call attention to what is happening in politics and around the world.

In what ways have you seen personal style and political statements intersect over the past few years?

MM: I think people are more comfortable sharing their political beliefs, so whether that’s at the dinner table, over social media, or on a T-shirt, people are more forthright.

We’ve seen many brands jump on the voting merch bandwagon. How do you think we can ensure that these collections have long-term positive implications?

MM: When it comes to voting merch, not only is it essential to get the message out, but it’s equally as important to support organizations that are dedicated to protecting voter rights. With our voting initiatives, we donated proceeds from the sales to Fair Fight, and then I am a Voter and believe this is one of the best ways to have a long-term impact.

Can you remember what you wore the first time you voted? And even if you’re voting by mail, will you have an election-day ensemble this year?

MM: This year, I registered to be an election day poll worker, so I’ll be wearing comfortable shoes (it’s a long day! 5 AM – 9 PM) and my Cleo Wade x La Ligne Vote mask.

When it comes to the future of fashion, do you think consumers will care more and more about conscious fashion?

MM:  We saw such an incredible consumer response to our voting merch upon launch. Both the Cleo Wade mask and tee and the Je Suis Voter sweater sold out quickly, indicating an ongoing appetite for fashion that makes a difference through its message as well as its charitable component.

Are there any specific politicians you think are using their fashion or beauty choices to communicate their beliefs thoughtfully?

MM: I certainly loved seeing the sea of white suits and dresses worn by the Democratic women of Congress at President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.

For more information on when early voting starts in your state, and to find your polling place head to Vote.Org

A portion of the proceeds will go towards I am a voter, a nonpartisan movement that aims to create a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement by unifying around a central truth: Our democracy works best when we all participate.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to ACLU, an organization committed to creating an equitable voting environment, in addition to promoting civil liberties such as racial justice, and human, LGBTQ, and immigration rights. 

This special-edition shirt will support the nonprofit Monumental Women in their efforts to honor the women who paved the way by breaking the bronze ceiling.  

All of the net profits from the sale of this style will be donated to the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization I am a voter.

Ten percent of the proceeds from this collection will be donated to Higher Heights Leadership Fund. An organization dedicated to strengthening Black women’s leadership capacity and civic participation. 

10% of all hoodie sales will be donated to Fair Fight, a voter advocacy organization started by Stacy Abrams.

All of the proceeds of the Voter Scarf will go towards supporting the nonpartisan movement I am a voter.

Proceeds will be donated to When We All Vote. 

A portion of the proceeds will go towards Rock the Vote. 

Fifteen percent of the proceeds from this sustainably sourced USA-made tee will be donated to Rock the Vote.

Twenty percent of proceeds will be donated to When We All Vote. 

For every pack sold, 15% of the proceeds will go to I am a Voter.

Opera voting gloves? Take us to the ballot box.