Augmenting Activism Through Product Alignments

Celebrities are increasingly taking roles as activists, from supporting Black Lives Matter, to promoting women’s rights in light of the Me-Too movement, to highlighting sustainability. Meanwhile, activists working toward various causes are more often becoming celebrities in their own right. Members of both groups are looking at fashion and other product collaborations and brand ambassadorships as effective ways to get their messages out:

  • Just this week came news that poet-activist and fashion icon Amanda Gorman will become the face of Estée Lauder. She signed with IMG Models for fashion and beauty endorsements in January, shortly after presenting a poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. The deal with Estée Lauder reportedly was sealed after Gorman had rejected $17 million worth of other agreements because they did not fit well with her principles. Gorman has also written books for both children and adults with Penguin Random House.
  • Civil rights activist, author, and professor Angela Davis paired with Renowned, an L.A.-based fashion brand, on a collection inspired by the Black Panthers, of which she was a member, and its co-founder Huey P. Newton. A t-shirt and hoodie under the “Heroes of Blackness” banner featured a collage design integrating phrases including “We not asking no more,” “Black Power,” and “First Up.” Proceeds were directed to nonprofit groups that work for prison reform.
  • Naomi Osaka made her name in tennis but has become known for her advocacy in support of Black Lives Matter and more recently mental health. She has entered into a number of fashion collaborations in the last year or so. Many of the pieces take their design cues from the Japanese-Haitian athlete’s Japanese heritage; Osaka grew up mostly in the U.S. but retains dual citizenship with Japan, where she was born and which she represents as a tennis player. Partners include Levi’s, which released a four-piece collection last month consisting of upcycled denim (a short kimono, two pairs of shorts, and a bustier); ADEAM, which dropped a fashion collection last September after an earlier runway debut; Nike, for annual collections starting in 2020; Louis Vuitton, for a brand ambassadorship beginning this year; Japanese design label Comme des Garçons for a vintage high-top sneaker; Frankies Bikinis for designer swimwear; and Scottish luxury brand Strathberry for a limited-edition collection of leather handbags and wallets.
  • Community activist Opal Lee, the nonagenarian “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” spearheaded the effort to make Juneteenth (June 19) a National Day of Remembrance and also works to address food insecurity. She and Unity Unlimited Inc., a Fort Worth-based nonprofit focused on overcoming racial and cultural division, which works with Lee on her ventures, retained FanGirl Consulting and Brand Management in the spring of this year. Plans include licensed consumer products, brand partnerships, and sponsorships.
  • Transgender activist DJ Honey Dijon launched an Etsy collection of limited-edition artisan products including earrings, wallets, sensory candles, socks, incense holders, playing cards, scarves, and vases created by women Etsy sellers of color. The intent is to showcase LGBTQ+ representation in each decade, from the 1950s on, in a joyful, colorful way. Honey Dijon has also worked with fashion labels such as Kim Jones, Riccardo Tisci, and Nicolas Ghesquière. The shop is up for three months beginning August 16 of this year along with separate collections by 10 other creators.

This list represents just a handful of the product collaboration and ambassadorship programs centered around activists promoting a variety of goals and missions. Expect the landscape to continue growing as the number of activists proliferates; as these advocates increasingly embrace commercial partnerships as a viable means of supporting their causes in a way that does not violate their principles; and as an expanding pool of companies, both entrepreneurial and corporate, seek out such collaborations as a way of showing where they stand on the issues of the day, as their consumers are asking them to do.

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