Business & Tech

Beyond the Ribbon: How Fashion Takes Responsibility for Gender Equality

Fashion industry can be a source of good news! With due focus on challenges ahead, important milestones can be overlooked. Take strides for gender equality made in recent years by brands and individual advocates. From diversity in representation to stronger fundraising and legal protections efforts, the fashion community is coming together for a better future of women around the world. One powerful example is the rising prominence of the White Ribbon Campaign.
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Jacket vintage by Stylist T-shirt: "Each x other" limited edition Maripol Pants: AOTC Shoes: Christian Louboutin

Founded in 1991 in Canada, it has become a global style symbol of activism against domestic violence and gender-based discrimination towards women and girls. Over the years, various fashion luminaries have shown their support with limited-edition items. Stella McCartney designed a White Ribbon badge. Girard Perregaux created a line of ceramic watches. Kering Foundation’s White Ribbon for Women campaign had contributions from the luxury giant’s portfolio: Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen among others. The call for greater industry engagement on this issue is being answered around the world!

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Sweatshirt: White Ribbon USA x ARTRAMUS #stopviolence Jeans: Brandy Malvine

Five years ago designer Manish Malhotra launched a Blue Runway project at Lake Fashion Week in Mumbai highlighting India’s path towards gender equality and girls’ safety and education. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, infamously labeled “the worst place to be a woman”, fashion is used as a tool of recovery for survivors of sexual violence through the City of Joy program. Last year, New Zealand Fashion Week championed inter-generational empowerment by featuring 60-year old model Mercy Brewer as its spokesperson to promote social and professional opportunities for senior women. Worldwide, sports and style icon Serena Williams has partnered with the beauty industry giant P&G to raise funds and awareness to end gender discrimination in all areas of life. “Fashion cannot be disconnected from reality, and the reality is that the world is changing towards female empowerment and equality,” says Veronika Mudra, founder of White Ribbon organizations in the United States and Ukraine. In 2019, she worked with women-owned brand ARTRAMUS on special apparel emblazoned with #stopviolence for International Child Protection Day and #wearewhiteribbon for the US Embassy White Ribbon campaign. One of LA’s iconic destinations, Kimpton La Peer Hotel, accommodated the campaign’s crew and team and became an art residency for the artist James Peter Henry, who also supports White Ribbon USA.

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Jumpsuit: Maje, Shoes: Gianvito Rossi, Jewelry: Vintage by Stylist

The work must be introspective as well. Fashion industry, largely powered by female consumers, has a gender-based history of exploitation. A recent study The Glass Runway by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Glamour, and McKinsey & Company points out that gender inequality is an ongoing internal problem: from unequal pay and lack of female executives to the mistreatment of garment workers and sexual harassment in the workplace. Veronika Mudra believes the fashion industry has a clear moral responsibility as well as economic and creative power to end gender inequality within a generation. A former fashion model, she has firsthand experience with the highs and lows of the process. It informs her passion for the White Ribbon mission. This is also why she celebrates her peers trying to change the status quo from within.

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Jacket: Vintage by Stylist, T-Shirt: "Each x other" limited edition Maripol Pants: AOTC, Shoes: Christian Louboutin

Emily Ratajkowski is waging an unprecedented legal battle of the right to own her likeness and images so that future models may receive fairer treatment in contract negotiations. Her essay “Buying Myself Back” sparked a firestorm within the modeling community. Industry watchdog @diet_prada regularly provides its platform for exposing predatory practices by photographers and casting agents. It takes a village!

Changing gender bias narratives that contribute to dehumanization of women (the root cause of violence and inequality they face daily) is a priority for many industry insiders across the creative spectrum. Veronika Mudra sees the benefits of this collective impact on the horizon. Society is finally holding the fashion industry accountable for its grievances while more and more brands are using their power to take a stand. The late Karl Lagerfeld turned his Chanel runway into a feminist rally while Maria Grazia Chiuri announced her Dior debut with shirts quoting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous line “We should all be feminists”. However, awareness is no longer enough. “You can spend ad budget millions on top models and exotic locations, or you can donate some of the profits to organizations who advocate for a real change,” says Mudra. The White Ribbon USA is here to ensure that best intentions are followed by actions. Good news, indeed.


Photographer - Tijana Vukovic 

Stylist - Jelena Vonarb 

MUA - Mina Abramovic

Hair stylist - Lea Journo 

Location: Kimpton La Peer Hotel in Los Angeles 

Featured art works: Retna, James Peter Henry



About the author: Stephan Rabimov, Editor-at-Large.
Stephan Rabimov is an award-winning American journalist and fashion critic.

Co-authored with Adriana Georgiades

Picture by Sarah Jane Barnes



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