Life&Style Writer Alice Gawthrop discusses the launch of REBELLION, a range of t-shirts inspired by activists in the Write for Rights campaign
Amnesty International launched REBELLION at the end of 2018, a limited edition range of feminist t-shirts inspired by the women involved in their Write for Rights campaign, which supports female activists around the world.
These activists include Nonhle Mbuthuma, who has been leading a peaceful struggle against a company that wants to mine her community’s ancestral land in South Africa, and has consequently faced harassment and death threats for this; Atena Daemi, who has been jailed in Iran for speaking out against the death penalty; and women and campaigners in Northern Ireland who have been fighting to change restrictive abortion laws that have seen people having to spend money and resources going abroad to get abortions, or face the dangers of self-induced abortions. The Write for Rights campaign supports women such as these by allowing people around the world to write letters of solidary to these women, or letters putting pressure on those with the power to stop the abuse.
The work these women do has been honoured in a collection of slogan t-shirts designed by women and non-binary artists, featuring slogans such as ‘Together we rise’, ‘The future is queer’ and ‘Our bodies, our rights’. A range of important issues are touched on, from LGBT rights to reproductive rights to the general importance of intersectionality. Designers include Alice Skinner, who created an image that conveyed how empowering the internet can be as a platform for those whose voices are often ignored, and Jacob V Joyce, a non-binary artist who wanted to create a statement about LGBT+ empowerment.
Fashion as activism is nothing new; t-shirts have a long history of being used as a vehicle for political statements. After all, they’re an inexpensive form of activism and their bold slogans are pretty hard to miss. One of the most famous examples of t-shirt activism is the t-shirt Katharine Hamnett wore to meet Margaret Thatcher in 1984, which bore the slogan, ‘58% don’t want pershing’ – an in-your-face condemnation of the permission granted by the Prime Minister to the US to station nuclear missiles on British soil.
T-shirts with politically charged slogans have also found their way onto the high-street, with a massive surge in the popularity of t-shirts with feminist slogans in recent years. For instance in 2014 feminist group the Fawcett Society and ELLE collaborated with high-street chain Whistles to create a t-shirt with the slogan ‘This is what a feminist looks like’. Controversially, following an investigation by Mail on Sunday, allegations emerged that these t-shirts were being manufactured in a sweatshop by women who were being paid 62p per hour, which, if true, creates a disconnect between the message of empowerment and the reality that women were in fact being exploited to send this message. It should be noted that the Fawcett Society has denied these claims, though Sam Maher, a policy officer at Labour Behind the Label, told the Guardianthat while the factory in which the t-shirts were made may not have been technically a sweatshop, it is still part of the wider system of exploitation.
Luckily Amnesty International’s collection didn’t fall into the trap of hypocrisy. The t-shirts were ethically manufactured on Fair Wear Foundation and Organic cotton, with 50% of the profits going to Amnesty, allowing them to keep up campaigns like Write for Rights, and 50% going to the designers. The range was pretty inclusive too, coming in sizes from XXS to 5XL, meaning feminists of all shapes and sizes are catered to. Unfortunately the campaign has ended and the t-shirts are no longer on sale, but undoubtedly similar campaigns will be enacted in the future, and in the mean time there areother t-shirts availablethat will let you mix your fashion and your activism just as Katharine Hamnett did all those years ago.