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Livia Firth on How Powerful Fashion Symbols Can Start a Revolution

The need of the hour? Simple, powerful fashion symbols that can be wielded by the right social media heroes to start a revolution, says Vogue Arabia’s sustainability editor-at-large.

Powerful Fashion Symbols

Katniss’s hand gesture symbolized the revolution in The Hunger Games

As you are reading this, the Cannes Film Festival will have received global media attention for the fashion looks of the actors walking one of the most famous red carpets in the world. But while I am not able to comment on any of it (my print deadline for this June issue is before the festival opens), I can’t help but wonder if anyone could use this powerful communication platform to launch a new campaign for democracy and social and environmental justice. After all, social media has catapulted some of these celebrities to an insane level of fame; they could literally get everyone to do anything with just wearing one look or one accessory.

Back in 2010, when I launched The Green Carpet Challenge at the Golden Globes, I got some of the actors to join me to amplify the message. At the time, no one was talking about sustainable fashion, and social media wasn’t even a thing. Their endorsement and joining meant that the movement got bigger and stronger carpet after carpet, year after year. But were I to start this today, with sustainability being one of the most overused words from the dictionary and with social media on steroids… What would I do?

Powerful Fashion Symbols

Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd wear black at the Golden Globes in 2018 in support of #TimesUp. Photo: Alamy

Would I choose a fashion symbol and ask everyone to wear it? Think about the Black Panthers’ famous black beret in the 60s, the Guy Fawkes masks during Occupy Wall Street, the pink hat, which was chosen in 2017 at the Women’s March in Washington, or the actors wearing black at the Golden Globes in 2018 in support of the #TimesUp movement. These were all simple, but powerful fashion symbols to show which side of history you were on. Can we do it again? Can we do it bigger?

Powerful Fashion Symbols

Protesters at the Women’s March in Washington in 2017 chose to don pink headwear

This year, half of the world will go to vote. Lately, I have been busy meeting with young activists and colleagues trying to come up with the right campaign for young people to go and vote. There has been a fair amount of brainstorming, and back and forth with ideas on how to convince them that their vote matters and will make a difference – but every time all I can think is, “We need a Katniss and a hand gesture to symbolize and re-ignite the revolution.”

Here is a bit of context for those of you who are too young or too old (or maybe you were just not bothered at the time) to have missed The Hunger Games movies: the story is set in a dystopian world called Panem consisting of the lavishly rich and technologically advanced capital, which rules 12 districts in varying states of poverty. Every year, children from the 12 districts are selected via lottery to participate in a compulsory televised battle death match called The Hunger Games, with the purpose of providing entertainment for the capital while reminding the districts of its power and its lack of remorse or forgiveness for rebellion.

Livia Firth

Fifteen years after the books and the movies became a cultural phenomenon, it is easy to see how this resonates with what is happening today. Dystopian nightmare is no more – the world of The Hunger Games is frighteningly like our world. In the business of fashion even more so: one only must look at the fast and ultra-fast fashion “extravaganza” of the last few years to understand the clear division between the Global North (where everyone consumes frantically what these businesses encouraged us to buy compulsively) and the Global South (where everyone is exploited to produce fast and cheap and where everything then gets dumped after a few wears). In 2015, when The True Cost documentary came out, the famous scene of the juxtaposition between Black Friday in America and the garment workers in Bangladesh hit hard. That was the Hunger Games already.

But in that story, everything changes when our hero Katniss Everdeen, played in the movie trilogy by Jennifer Lawrence, takes part in the games, distracts everyone with her fashion looks, becomes what today we would call an “influencer” and starts mobilizing everyone in the 12 districts with a “silent salute,” which soon becomes the symbol of the resistance and eventually destroys the capital.

Who will the Katniss Everdeen be in this day and age? What would the “silent salute” be and how would she use her being an influencer on social media to start a revolution? With Meta’s new political content “guidelines,” people fatigue in general, and everyone being sedated by relentless marketing campaigns disguised as “content” pushed on us by a distorted algorithm – it is not an easy answer.

The digitine movement has seen people blocking celebrities on social media for not speaking out on social issues

But this is precisely why it is the right time to think about it. I wonder who will start it and how it will happen. In the meantime, the new digitine movement (with people blocking celebrities on social media for not speaking out on social issues) may just be what we need to get the revolution started.

Originally published in the June 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

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