There is one school of thought—the wrong one—that trivializes fashion and imagines its purpose and message as less than the larger issues of the world. To this camp of silo’ed thinkers, a question like “what are you going to wear to the polls on November 3?” is an inane one. The right side of fashion history proves that costume, dress, and sartorial tradition and experimentation are so correlated to society, culture, and politics that what you wear to vote is as crucial a statement of political intent as any other.
For Abrima Erwiah, it is the question she is trying to answer right now with her new initiative Fashion Our Future 2020. “We hope that everybody is going to ask that question. We hope everyone is going to share videos and pictures of their outfits and get excited,” she says. “You look at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King—they all looked so dapper and they’re all wearing amazing suits and showing an appreciation for their rights, an appreciation for life, an appreciation for dressing. I just think it’s so powerful.”
Erwiah is tapping into that power with Fashion Our Future 2020, a project where fashion designers have come together to design items that encourage voting and provide education around voting. The initiative will launch during New York Fashion Week: The Shows and features pieces from a cross section of American fashion. Victor Glemaud, Tanya Taylor, Fe Noel, Batsheva, Lemlem, Brandon Maxwell, 3.1 Phillip Lim, HVN, Zero + Maria Cornejo, and so many more, including Erwiah’s own line with Rosario Dawson, Studio 189. Virgil Abloh is the project’s creative director, and Fashion Our Future is also partnering with Dawson’s Voto Latino, which aims to register one million voters by National Voter Registration Day, September 22, and guide those voters to the polls. Throughout the fall, it will also communicate on social media and through events at NYFW about the importance of voting and voter registration.
“It was born out of [and] around the beginning of the pandemic,” says Erwiah. “At that time there were a lot of conversations in the States as well with American designers about what was going on and what we could do. Also, BLM had started growing, along with concerns for people in the industry and the community. I remember I was also sitting in many other conversations about diversity and a lot of different topics, having a lot of different feelings.” She expressed a disconnect between the conversations being had on a brand level and the spirit of individuals ready to act and make change. So Fashion Our Future was born.
“Fashion Our Future 2020 is really about giving a space to amplify voices and providing tools for people to be able to speak about issues that matter, educate, participate and meet people where they’re at,” Erwiah says. “The brands can easily register people on their sites—it’s very low hanging fruit. There are text messaging possibilities—put it on the clothes. Virgil put it on one of the T-shirts. He has a T-shirt that says ’Text to Register.’ It’s really simple.”
The product offering, which will launch next week, combines form with function. In addition to Abloh’s tee and another that reads “Model Voter,” there are also face masks and lunch boxes. “Michelle Obama in her DNC speech said, ‘Pack your lunch, you might be standing there for a while.’ So we’re really just trying to make it as easy as possible and useful as possible because obviously sustainability matters to us, too, so we try not to make things for no reason,” Erwiah adds.
Getting the fashion community on board was easy. Erwiah explains that Abloh, Taylor, Glemaud, and Noel were especially instrumental to the project, collaborating on Zoom calls and finding every way to help. “Now more than ever it’s really important that we move with intention and use our voices,” says Noel. “My voice is fashion. So at such a pivotal time, it’s my duty to spread the word about voting; but in the most fashionable way of course! I wanted to create something universal and versatile that would be fun and wearable. The Fe Noel x Fashion Our Future bandana is the perfect accessory to make a statement with.”
“As designers we express ourselves via clothing and now we are using our collective platforms to effect change and bring awareness that the upcoming election will have long-lasting generational repercussions,” says Glemaud. “I feel that our combined creativity and political awareness might help change our current American political landscape.”
“It’s important to me to use the platform I have to support social issues that I believe in,” says Taylor. “The fashion industry holds a lot of power and I think it’s important designers feel a responsibility to speak up and encourage change and it is inspiring to see how working together can achieve progress.”
Wearing a T-shirt promoting voting isn’t the end point of the conversation, and Erwiah hopes that a tee or a lunch box or a mask can serve as a representation and reminder of how crucial the right to vote is. “I think of my mother,” she says. “[She] is one day younger than John Lewis, one year older than Emmett Till. You know about Emmett Till and the lynching, so think about: She was 14, 15 when it happened in Mississippi. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, she was 25. She didn’t have those rights and now I have them.”
She continues: “I feel like we can draw these human connections, remember what we have access to, celebrate how far we’ve come and join together while we’re still united on November 3rd and be a model voter. I think that’s something worth doing and it’s inspiring.”
The question remains, what product from Fashion Our Future will Erwiah herself be wearing to vote on November 3? “I’m going to come back to you on that because I haven’t figured it out yet,” she says. “I’m going to try to make it the best outfit I’ve worn in 2020.”