Creative activism: #FashionActivism for meaningful clothes
“Wear clothes that matter.”
Do you care about what you wear? Not only clothes are an important issue in terms of how other people can see us but also, are a way of self-expression and social responsibility -a consciousness of where it comes from and who manufactured it.
Céline Seeman collection “Banned”, in which she printed Nasa pictures that show the seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) whose citizens would be barred entry to the U.S (Image 1).
Fashion activism can be defined as the use of fashion to implement social change and take a protest form, either suggesting support or nonconformist ideas (Fashion activism, n.d). The term was born, accordingly to Wikipedia, in 2014 when Céline Seeman, a fashion designer based in New York, launched her social media campaign #FashionActivism. Céline Seeman started with the movement when she saw particular photography from NASA –published in Creative Commons 2014. A shot taken above the Gaza Strip, in which is possible to see rockets drawing lightly shapes in the darkness of the sky, make her feel the need of spreading the image: “I really wanted to bring it closer to people—and fashion was a way to do that” (Loewe, 2018).
The “dignity key”, done with white gold by Beirut local artisans, is symbolizing refugees Right to return. Céline Seeman modeled it with her family’s house key (image 2).
Céline Seeman is Palestinian, even though she was born in Lebanon and just being a child had to fly to America. “My earliest memory is fleeing war-torn Lebanon when I was three and a half years old (…) I remember the sobs and the tearful wishes for our uncertain future. We were leaving our homeland as refugees, hoping to re-establish the meaning of ‘home’ somewhere safe” –is she writing in a very personal article entitled “My Journey From Middle East Refugee To Fashion Designer” (Vernon, 2016).
The dark side of using clothes to spread messages –and an unexpected twist!
Although the concept of “Fashion Activism” was born with a positive purpose –for instance, Céline Semman did a ‘Dignity Key’ necklace, with which people can show support for displaced Middle Eastern refugees, and a ‘1st Amendment Flight Jacket’, standing up to the rise in islamophobia in the United States and hate crimes against American Muslims (Fashion activism, n.d)- there are campaigns using the same tool but with a contrary message –hate speech.
Image of Soldiers of Odin group from when they were patrolling in Tampere. CreditCreditIlvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times (Image 3).
This is the case of “Soldiers of Odin” (Image 3), an anti-immigrant group of people from Finland. They decided to take upon themselves the task of patrolling around Tampere to “protect it” when, in late 2015, thousands of asylum seekers, mainly from Syria and Iraq, started to arrive in the Swedish border (Martyn-Hemphill, 2016). One of the main characteristics was the message in their dark jackets saying “Soldiers of Odin” (Odin is a controversial concept that comes from mythology).
The unexpected twist comes when Riikka Yrttiaho, a former member of the Left Alliance Finnish party, decided to submit the trademark application to the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH). After the approval of the application, she said that “Soldiers of Odin” brand will “manufacture high-quality local handicraft with unicorns and glitter” (YLE, 2016). This movement, related to fashion activism, took a protesting form against the racist and anti-refugee group.
#FashionActivism Best Practices: Yasmeen Mjalli
Yasmeen Mjali during her intervention in Human Rights Plenary, done in October 2018. (Image 4)
Yasmin Mjalli is a Palestinian-American of 22 years old who has launched a clothes brand, BabyFist, with the message “Not your Habibti”. She is doing a campaign around Palestine to empower women, doing workshops to share stories about gender based violence and discrimination. The slogan of her brand is “ Clothing made in Palestine for a cause & designed to start a conversation about Women’s Rights”.
‘Not your habibti’, the jacket message that is fighting against street harassment and taking action for Women’s rights in Palestine (image 5).
“Wearing that jacket became an I can do it”, explains Yasmin Mjalli during her speech in the Human Rights Plenary (OYW 2018, image 4). “We are not victims. Women are taking matters into their own hands”, continues the youth Fashion designer. With the words “Not Your Habibti” a community of young women in Palestine has started, proving that clothes can be also messages. Now, the start up is becoming not only a socially conscious brand –as all the clothes are created in the West Bank and Gaza- but also a powerful activism tool. She is speaking out for a change.
Sewing an open conclusion
“For many multidisciplinary, myself included, a design is more than simply aesthetic or functional; it is a responsibility”, affirms Céline Semaan in a recent article published in Vogue entitled “The Lebanese Activist Making a Case for Slow Fashion at the UN” -published in 29 January 2019, in en.vogue.me. To this quote I would add that also the fact of wearing messages in our clothes has to become a consciousness “responsibility” –for example, see Melania Trump scandal after wearing a jacket with the message “I really don’t care, Do U?” while she was visiting a child detention center at Texas border.
Maelania Trump arriving at Andrews Air Force Base (21st June 2018) after visiting the Up bring New Hope Children Center, a child detention center near Texas border (image 6).
So, let us change the story: Really I care, do you? This is the moment to take action, be conscientious on what we are wearing and take part in the movement. Moreover, maybe do a step forward like Céine Seemar or Yasmeen Mjalli, and spread the word to make people be a critic, reflective and more involved in a positive social revolution through creative activism.
To read more about fashion activism
1.) “Sustainable Fashion Only Works When It’s Inclusive.” By CÉLINE SEMAAN in Elle (June 2018)
2.) “Understanding Sustainability Means Talking About Colonialism.” By Celine Semaan in The Cut (February 2018)
3.) “The Fashion History of Activism – Clothing a Generation of Rebels With a Cause.” By Andjela Djuraskovic (September 2017)
4.) “A Three-Ring Circus in Finland: Soldiers, ‘Loldiers’ and Asylum Seekers.” By Richard Martyn-Hemphill (February 2016)
5.) “’Not Your Habibti‘: Meet the young Palestinian woman bringing #MeToo movement to the West Bank.” By Lucy Pasha-Robinson (February 2018)
Image 1: Instagram. [@celinecleines]. (2018, 9, 20 of September). Image description: Press clipping showing my work in the Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 31, 2019, from
Image 2: Slowfactory.com (home page of the official website). The “dignity key” photography. Retrieved January 31, 2019, from
Image 3: The New York Times (digital version). A Three-Ring Circus in Finland: Soldiers, ‘Loldiers’ and Asylum Seekers. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from
Image 4: Vimeo. OYW 2018: Yasmeen Mjiali, Palestine. Human Rights Plenary from October 2018. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from Screenshot done by the author.
Image 5: baby-fist.com (official website). ‘Not Your Habibti.’, made in Gaza. Retrieved January 31, 2019, from
Image 6: wfla.com. (June 2018). Melania Trump wears a jacket saying ‘I Really Don’t Care’ on way to child detention center. Article data 20 June 2018. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from
Fashion activism. (n.d). In Wikipedia. Retrieved January 30, 2019. From
Loewe, E. (2018, August 21). Fashion Activism Might Be The Easiest (And Chicest) Way To Change The World Daily. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from
Martyn-Hemphill, R. (2016, February 9). A Three-Ring Circus in Finland: Soldiers, ‘Soldiers’ and Asylum Seekers. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from
Vernon, C. S. (2016, June 17). My Journey From Middle East Refugee To Fashion Designer. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from
Y. (2016, May 17). Woman trademarks Soldiers of Odin name for unicorn-themed clothing in anti-racism protest. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from