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LOLA in Vogue

Amaya talks about feminism and brands

How does feminism influence the language of fashion firms?


On the use (or abuse) of the term 'empowerment' and other reflections.


The word 'empowerment' has literally lost its meaning. Clear and direct. This was the title of the article with which Emma Hope Allwood, Chief fashion editor of Dazed Digital, put the industry in check: An industry that has plagued t-shirts, cashmere sweaters or tote bags with feminist slogans. But also marquees, television ads and packaging of all kinds. Is that wrong? Maybe not, at least, not all of it. As we’ll see below, it is reprehensible to make these claims as a trend if the company in question does not apply the same vision of gender ideology in its internal structure. Namely: everything that is hidden from the gallery, such as the hiring process, the organizational chart or its suppliers.

It is clear that we are all in the learning phase. Everybody. And, perhaps, it was necessary to go through a boom full of confusion, noise and neon colors, then, which is now, settle into a base. And language is one of the most powerful tools, at least, for those who are (as we are) on the frontlines of communication, press or fashion branding. 

For a long time independent woman or working girls have had appeal, because there was a time when their exceptionality made it an aspiration and working girl became a juicy self-proclamation. As Professor Jo Paoletti comments to, specializing in the study of consumer culture and its role in the formation of identity, "language flows, meanings change and phrases that used to be new and stimulating become obsolete." With the new feminist wave, which is different from the previous ones in many ways, above all by the importance of social networks, this process could be accelerated. The coming generations and their access to the labor market or the academic world has a lot to do with it. "I've felt this way for the last ten years, the first time was with my students, who were reluctant to use traditional gender categories or terms (pronouns, for example.) In my case, I opted for neutral pronouns in my writings, but I came across at least one editor with whom I had to defend the use of 'they' instead of 'he' or 'she', but I won."

In this context, some businesses have laid the foundations of how capitalism and feminism could get along, an impossibility from many points of view in the movement. One of them is Bulletin Co., the flagship store for feminist firms in New York, which also has an online sales service. We spoke with Maggie Braine, the product manager, who says: "Fashion is a canvas at the service of self-expression." For two years, with so many changes in the political and social landscape, there was a real desire to integrate protests into personal style. Both commerce and fashion need to be aware of the general societal feeling, as well as designing products that connect to a deeper level with their clients. The problem comes when it is done in an imposed way, treating activism as if it were a trend. How to make a difference? Betting on brands that support communities. For example, when you buy a Girl Power t-shirt in Bulletin, you invest in companies led by women, while part of the benefits are donated to Planned Parenthood.

The founder of Bulletin Co., Ali Kriegsman, a concept brings to the table that was already coined decades ago, femvertising "or the act of using feminism to sell things". Your prediction?

"I think that, as the consumer (and society) becomes more educated in this matter and more books and experts emerge on the subject, inconsistencies will come to light and those brands that do not really practice what they preach will be in trouble."

This is what Cassandra Napoli, associate editor of the marketing and digital media department at the trend forecasting agency WGSN, says: "We live in politically complicated times, and there is a lot of pressure on brands to take a stand on many issues. A stance is the key, but doing it authentically is the most important thing. For a long time, brands preferred silence because they believed that demonstrating would be rejected by consumers. But today silence is no longer considered neutral. The purpose is to trace a long-term brand strategy and the messages must make sense and align with the DNA of a brand. "

We wanted to know the point of view of agents of change, observers of a social scenario in unstoppable evolution and those who know the value of language ... so we launched the key question. 

How has feminism influenced (or will it influence) fashion firms?

Amaya Coronado, strategy director at LOLA MullenLowe Madrid agency

"There is a new feminist story, relatively recent, and with extensive reflection and literature about it, but that probably does not come from the usual academic environments, it is a phenomenon too new to still have the 'academic echo' that it will have. But there is no doubt that this new feminism is already conditioning parts of our culture, among them branding and fashion, what may be missing is to turn these approaches into specific commercial proposals. They get diluted along the way, because of fear of rejection and financial barriers. Branding professionals have to address feminism and diversity from the ethics and development of society, but also understand the economic opportunity that it implies."


On doing fashion branding with a gender perspective: "It is possible and it is already beginning to be done, stereotypes and labels must be avoided, people are tired of being labeled and no longer see themselves represented in the boxes that these categories imply. People demand the freedom to express who they are without limitations or prejudices, especially younger generations, who are defining their identity from the sum of many small parts and that sum does not correspond to a specific label. Brands are beginning to understand this, but they are learning and we can expect big mistakes along the way. The main mistake is to try to do it alone. It is important to approach people and groups that want to understand their challenges and attend to their needs. Learn their terms and language, and be especially sensitive to being represented."

On the use (or abuse) of the term empowerment: "Any word that is used excessively and is intended to be valid for everything, in reality, ends up not worth anything. It loses the meaning with which it ever became relevant in culture. And it is true that the word 'empowerment', within the privileged bubble of Western culture in which we move, may be falling into that trap, as it is in almost every phrase or discourse that seeks to motivate women to become strong. However, I do not believe that this is the case with the rest of the world, which is the majority, where women are still far from having the social role they deserve, and more important than that, which of course is not has lost its importance is the need to empower women, to give them the strength to assert themselves. "

On the commitment to be more inclusive: "Communication is a reflection of society, if society is more diverse, communication will reflect that. To the extent that different family models and different models of women are normalized, advertising also echoes that, real changes, changes that imply a change of culture, happen organically, from the inside out, they take time to get traction, until they reach the critical point that makes them massive. In any case, I also think that we have changed a lot, and the good news is that the pace of change is accelerating, we can think that in a short time we will see great social and cultural transformations. "

On the urgency of updating language: "Language creates reality, language conditions our thoughts and, therefore, our vision of the world and our behaviors, and, of course, language is the basis of communication. The choice of words is never silly, language is not capricious, certain words are always intended, so from my point of view, what is important is the intention behind the words. It is the speaker who makes the language sexist, not the language itself, if we change the language, but we do not change the mentality and the intention, we will not advance". 

Nerea Pérez de las Heras, creator and screenwriter of the humor show Feminism for clumsy people.

On the need to have this conversation or reflection: "I think there is a huge reflection, and it is being done from brands to make the struggle profitable, to turn it into something chic, a claim that is empty of content. How can we LOOK more feminist, not how can we BE, because being a worker implies fairer and less profitable working conditions? I do not find what feminism can do for branding interesting at all, in fact it seems very perverse to me that feminism is used to improve the image of a company, converting feminism into a slogan that empties it of its content, of what’s problematic, that it is a task for transformation of people and societies ".

On doing fashion branding with a gender perspective: "It is constantly being done, I see it everywhere but I think that the people with a feminist conscience are very alert and when we see, for example, a colorful campaign with diverse women we think, very well, very nice, fantastic, but how will the workers be treated at your factories, how do you deal with conciliation issues? You have to be very cautious before putting the label on feminist, to see if your philosophy and your actions can sustain it and if there is nothing behind, you have to be very careful with using social causes to sell your brand's clothes, because it implies being committed to those causes of truth".

On the use (or abuse) of the term empowerment: "The empowered woman is the new fairytale princess, an idealized fiction that pushes you to consume and pursue individualistic and in many cases superficial goals, which brands do very well. This is explained very well by Jessa Crispin in her book Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto. It is of little use for a woman to be a minister or director of a large company if she uses her power just as badly as the patriarchal system has for centuries; individual capitalist, egocentric and frivolous, we need more collective action to make the world a fairer place for everyone ".

On the commitment to be more inclusive: "There is still a long way to go to educate, advertising is everywhere and I think it is very positive to present diverse models of people and couples because it is a way of adjusting more to reality and, for consumers, if they are reflected. Advertising has fostered very unreal and harmful images, in this sense, the critical work of the artist Yolanda Domínguez is very important ".

On the urgency of updating the language: "Language shapes our notion of reality, and that what is not named does not exist." Laura Freixas told me that "until recently, expressions such as domestic work, mansplaining or sorority were not in our vocabulary. We are naming our experience in the world, the issue is not that we want to have our share of the culture pie, it is that if we do not have it, our experiences will continue to be silenced and, therefore, will not matter.

Sebastián Sandoli, social media of the advertising agency La Despensa

About the need to have this conversation or reflection: "I think we are in full revolution, it's not that it's fashionable, because feminism has always been present in our society for more than a century, but (like many other social causes) with the advancement of social networks, it has caused it to be on everyone's lips, has given rise to movements such as #MeToo. I think it's a matter of time before all this commotion begins to be theorized in the fields of communication and marketing."

On doing fashion branding with a gender perspective: "You can, but we have a very big problem with this, and it's the pinkwashing or the purplewashing: when a social cause sells, with this I mean that you have to be consistent. Empowering girls with 'feminist' messages doesn’t count if you then have underage girls in illegal industries in Bangladesh working with subhuman conditions. You have to find an intermediate point where the brand is really feminist or with a gender ideology for all its stakeholders, not only for the final consumer ".

About the use (or abuse) of the term empowerment: “Brands have wanted to get into the action in such a superficial way that they have ended up detracting from the cause or, even worse, diluted the message. A 'superwoman' at work and then also has the strength to take care of the whole house? They show it as 'empowerment' but it's only one thing: life-long chauvinism."

On the commitment to be more inclusive: "It's very similar to what Reese Witherspoon said a few years ago: 'let's not make films for and for women because they deserve it, but because they also make a lot of money.' This is the same thing, create campaigns with a gender or LGBT perspective because you care about the cause, but also that position yourself to assure you a segment of the market that until now we were ignoring".

On the urgency of updating the language: "Like any person who works in advertising, I will say that language, in this industry, is everything, we have to step into society and we have to do it as soon as possible. We are increasingly aware of the importance of inclusiveness and of each and every person on this planet feeling represented and accepted, and that is why we must always listen to social movements, not only from an ethical point of view, but also in an interested way: having the public 'happy' will make a brand much better positioned. A good example is the new Pride campaign from H & M, which at first glance might look like pinkwashing, but really fulfills, in some way, their commitment: 15% of sales will go to LGBT organizations."


This is an English translation of the original article that can be found HERE.