"T-shirts are some of the strongest messaging tools for consciousness raising. You can’t not read them, and once you’ve read them, they stay in your brain, churning around, hopefully making you think and act.”
Wise words coming from feted British designer, Katharine Hamnett, the genius behind some of fashion's most famous slogan tees, wouldn't you agree?
Fashion has always been a form of self-expression but amidst times of political upheaval and social injustice, brands must tread carefully about the messages they're putting out there.
While scrolling through our Facebook news feed yesterday, we came across this t-shirt. Now, as many of you know, there's no dearth of small companies that customise shirts and sell them on social media.
But this wasn't a 'random' company. This problematic tee, that reads "Lying is too mainstream so I Gula-lie" was actually by Fifth Avenue Clothing, a relatively popular brand that previously had stores all over the country but now operates online. And no, it's not problematic just because they don't seem to know how to spell mainstream...
Here are some other shirts from their brand so you get an idea about their seemingly opportunist design aesthetic, if you can even call it that. However, the products featured below aren't nearly as problematic as their latest design. It's one thing to make a joke out of a font, it's a whole different ball game to brand a woman who may have been harassed in her workplace as a liar for kicks.
For context, the misogynistic messaging on the t-shirt seems to be taking a dig at PTI lawmaker Ayesha Gulalai, who recently levelled allegations of harassment against PTI Chairman Imran Khan and other members of his party.
The details of her case remain murky at present but does that give us the right to play judge and jury? At this point, we can't make any judgements about who's telling the truth because it an ongoing investigation. The brand seems to have jumped the gun in pointing fingers at the woman, making puns about her but I didn't spot any tees taking a jab at imran Khan. Why must we always paint out the woman to be at fault, to be a liar? Why the double standard?
It's irresponsible to say that politics has no room in fashion. From Prabal Gurung to Dior, many big names in fashion use their creations to get their message across. That being said, at least those brands seem to be set on one ideology and take a stand based on that.
What irks us most is when brands like Fifth Avenue lure female customers in by selling their products via progressive/empowering messages, only to later elicit laughter at their expense and remind them that they will always get the shorter end of the stick in society.
If a brand is so keen to engage in politics, there's nothing stopping them from doing so. But as consumers, we must demand that they make their stance clear and their execution coherent. It is unacceptable for them to cash in on a movement and slap on a feminist slogan on one shirt, then on the other hand produce merchandise that hurts women and reinforces stereotypes.
Not to mention, this tee in particular isn't really political to begin with, it's just downright misogynistic. It's regressive that they're perpetuating a mentality that makes light of a grave issue like sexual harassment.
This mentality is why victims of sexual abuse and harassment don't come forward because when they do, they also become victims of name-calling and public-shaming. Or in this case, they become t-shirt slogans that you can just laugh off.
Fifth Avenue Clothing is blatantly trying to cash in on an on-trend subject but their ignorance isn't and shouldn't be a defence nor should we let such errors in judgement slide. Of course when you let messages of inclusiveness and acceptance filter into your everyday fashion, you open up the space for the flip side to let their shirts do the talking; we guess that's inevitable.
That being said, in a country like ours, incidents like this must be called out, specially when they're stemming from big retailers which have a mammoth reach; it is the only way to disrupt the casual acceptance of sexism and misogyny.
As of now, the t-shirt has seen been removed from their online collection. Talking to Images, Mohammed Khanani, the CEO of Fifth Avenue Clothing seemed unfazed by the criticism: "We put up 20 new designs every day. Sometimes certain designs work, sometimes they don't. We also get backlash from men on our feminist shirts but as a brand, our philosophy is to constantly push boundaries, open minds; it's trial and error."
What you wear on your chest, loud and proud, matters. Remember Priyanka Chopra's insensitive vest comparing refugees and immigrants to travellers? That was a PR disaster. She probably didn't even think about how people would perceive it, later apologising for the folly, stating the message had been "misconstrued".
Let's start thinking more carefully about the statements we're making with our clothes and stop giving our hard-earned money to retailers who belittle women through fashion.