"How rich does any one person need to be, before we can start taking care of each other"-- Johnson Hartig, Owner and designer of Libertine.
In recent weeks Occupy Wall Street, the grass-roots movement that has launched thousands of demonstrations across the nation all calling for a massive overhaul of the American economic system, has been a hot topic on nearly every media outlet. It has also become the center of debate over free speech, capitalism, and democracy for every reporter from the Fox News Team to NPR's crew.
As a fashion writer, and someone who has fixed their career goals firmly on an industry which deals heavily in the luxury market, it's difficult not to feel some disconnect from the Occupy movement. After all by our very existence aren't we just promoting consumerism, materialism and the American greed which has sparked the movement into action? How do we reconcile our personal feelings about the need for fair wages, equality, access to education for all with a profession that frankly has many ties to corporate America, and doesn't have a great track record on labor issues? Is it possible to make a sincere statement regarding the current events from a fashion industry point of view?
After speaking with two designers, each of whom is in their own way making their voice heard, and each of whom agreed to talk to Style Wylde, I believe it is. I believe as members of the media we can shine a light on those members of our industry whom are making a difference, on those members that speak their minds and chose to stand up for their values in this volatile political time.
Johnson Hartig of Libertine, has never been one to follow fashion rules. In his Spring 2012 collection, Hartig shook things up again with inclusion of boldly impactful statement pieces that summed up the situation simply, with "TAX THE RICH MORE" scrawled on the front of tees and skirts. Here's what Hartig had to say about the pieces, and their now ultra timeliness.
SW: The "Tax The Rich More" tees and skirts from the Spring 2012 collection have stuck with me ever since seeing them on the runway at New York Fashion Week. Since then, with the launch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, they seem almost prophetic. How do you feel about everything that is going on across the nation right now?
JH: I am so excited that people are actually rallying, and standing up for what they believe! I remember during the Bush Administration feeling like I couldn't believe that people weren't absolutely rioting in the streets. I think its amazing that people are now out there getting their voices heard, getting involved.
SW: Obviously, your Tax The Rich pieces were created long before the Occupy movement began, what inspired you to make such a bold political statement within your runway show?
JH: When I was working on the Spring 2012 collection, I really just felt so frustrated with the economic situation, and I felt like I could use my voice to make a strong statement. Obviously I've simplified the issue quite a bit. I understand the economic situation is more complicated than just Tax the Rich More. But I felt this was a simple, clear statement that I could make, that I wanted to make.
SW: Have you received any push back from retailers, or customers regarding the pieces?
JH: As of right now, I don't think a single retailer has ordered the tees or the skirt. But I didn't really expect them to. I understand a lot of retailers need to worry about offending their customers. Besides, I never really intended the to make money off the pieces, there would be something really perverse about that! As far as customers go, the reaction has been amazing. I actually wore one of the shirts around Los Angeles the other day and had tons of people approach me about where to get one. It was really amazing to see the reaction to it. I felt like I was part of something by wearing it. These pieces are by far the most political we have ever done, and it was a great feeling to experience other people responding positively to it. Of course not all the responses were positive. I did have a woman approach, and lecture me about the shirt. She told me I didn't understand, and that one day when I am rich I will have a different view. I told her that I already feel like I have a lot, and I really don't know how rich one person needs to be, before we can start taking care of each other.
Johnson Hartig is not the only activist voice in the industry. Oakland's Loretta Nguyen of the wearable-art/tee shirt and hoodie line 57-33, has been making her own statement through involvement with and impassioned blog posts about the Occupy/ninety nine to one movement. Loretta spoke to SW about these causes via email earlier this week:
SW: Can you tell us about the ninety nine to one project? What are it's goals?
LN: The goals on our end are to support and create awareness of the occupations that are happening across the country and to encourage people to actively participate in our democracy. We created our sticker design "ninetyninetoone" a few weeks ago. It was just a simple way for people to show their support for this movement...
SW: As a designer in the fashion industry, which to some extent is driven by consumerism and for the mass market brands, large corporate entities, what made you want to speak up and get involved? Is there a conflict being a business owner in what some might call the luxury realm, and being involved in the movement?
LN: I'm not sure I would say we are part of the fashion industry. Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld work in the fashion industry. We, on the other hand, make t-shirts. We got involved because you don't have to look very hard or very far to find a gross inequity in our current political system. We got involved because we are in agreement with the occupiers. I often see companies shy away from political issues for fear that they may alienate potential customers. We wholeheartedly support what is happening in lower Manhattan and across the country and for us to remain silent or seemingly neutral on this was never really an option. I don't think there is any conflict with being a small business owner and having some major objections to the way banking, and multi-national corporations are run. I can't think of a small business owner I know who doesn't feel that the current crisis is a direct result of greed, irresponsibility and a lack of accountability. When small businesses fail, no one bails them out. Small business loans dropped 53 billion dollars between 2008 and 2010. If small businesses and big banks are suppose to be on the same side, I think someone forgot to tell the big banks. I'm not sure I consider what we sell a luxury item. T shirts and hoodies are pretty basic items and we sell them for reasonable prices considering they are all produced domestically. The only way we could reduce our prices would be to use apparel that was made with outsourced 3rd world labor, and we have no intentions of doing that.
SW: How would you recommend people get involved in these causes?
LN: ...There are really a million ways to support this. Participate in their occupations and marches, write to your representatives voice your support and your concerns, donate food or supplies or your free time to the occupations. Bank Transfer day is a great event that encourages people to close their accounts at large commercial banks and try a local bank or credit union.... Take a look at who you spend your money with and see if there are other options that fall more in line with your values. Every dollar we spend is an investment in a company. Vote with your dollars.
For more information on ninetyninetoone check out Loretta's blog on 57-33.com.