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$250 Jeans Aren’t the Answer to the #MeToo Movement

The questionable new denim collection from We Wear the Pants is here.

We Wear the Pants features newsprint from articles about #MeToo.
We Wear the Pants, a denim capsule collection, seeks to raise awareness about #MeToo.
Photo: We Wear the Pants

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The designers of a limited-edition denim collection want customers to literally wear newspaper headlines about the #MeToo movement on their sleeves — and legs. Marta Goldschmied and Gabriella Meyer say they hope the capsule collection, We Wear the Pants, sparks a dialogue about the taboo subject of sexual violence. With a denim jacket, jeans, and a T-shirt, the collection features newsprint from articles about sexual misconduct published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and more.

Given the onslaught of news stories about #MeToo, the social media debates about the movement, and the activism taking place everywhere from the streets to the red carpet, there’s plenty of conversation about sexual violence at the moment.

What’s unclear, however, is how a denim line will advance the discussion. The pieces range from $58 to $375, meaning many of the women most vulnerable to such abuse, like domestic, agricultural, and food service workers, won’t be able to afford the capsule collection.

And because it stops at size 10, only some women will be able to wear the pieces from the line. The size cutoff is especially troubling considering the research indicating that sexual abuse survivors are more likely to be obese than the general population and thus unable to fit into a line designed with them in mind.

There’s also the fact that the collection alone could be triggering for survivors of sexual misconduct, who likely don’t want to drape themselves in apparel that refers to rape, abuse, and harassment. Social media users pointed out as much.

While this collection of #MeToo jeans seems misguided for a number of reasons, activists have used jeans to make a statement about sexual assault for years. In the 1990s, an Italian judge overturned a sexual assault conviction against a man who raped his driving student because the victim wore tight jeans. This led women lawmakers to protest the decision by showing up to work in jeans to show solidarity with the teenage victim.

After the controversial case, an organization called Peace Over Violence started the Denim Day campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault. Today, schools and groups across the globe commemorate Denim Day by wearing jeans and learning how to combat sexual violence. But activists wearing jeans in solidarity with sexual assault victims is not the same as a high fashion collection that includes $250 #MeToo jeans.

We Wear the Pants is far from the first time a fashion brand has taken a stab at activism by debuting a pricey collection meant to raise awareness about a social ill. In May, actress Kate Bosworth released a capsule collection with the jeans maker J. Brand to raise awareness about human trafficking. Items ranged in price from $118 to $428 and did not go beyond a size large or 32-inch waist. But 100 percent of proceeds from that collection will go to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. In contrast, 10 percent of proceeds from the We Wear the Pants collection are going to the National Women’s Law Center to help sexual harassment victims.

We Wear the Pants jeans
We Wear the Pants jeans feature newsprint about the #MeToo movement.
Photo: We Wear the Pants

Even before #MeToo became a phenomenon last fall, fashion brands were turning distinctly political, thanks to the election of President Donald Trump. Women’s rights, gun violence, and the environment are some of the causes brands are getting behind.

Everlane donates $5 per every item in its 100% Human collection to the American Civil Liberties Union. The jewelry brand Lady Grey routed all proceeds from sales of its helix ear cuff to March for Our Lives. And last year, Reformation announced that it would donate proceeds to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Environmental Defense Fund, while Maryam Nassir Zadeh donated proceeds to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Equal Justice Initiative, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

As fashion has increasingly embraced politics during the Trump era, some brands have taken a clumsy approach to social justice. In January, Lingua Franca’s $380 “Poverty is Sexist” sweater created a buzz, followed by a controversy. Although $100 from each purchase benefited the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, the fact that the sweater itself was off limits to poor women wasn’t lost on the public. Actress Connie Britton, who wore the sweater on the red carpet, faced a backlash because of its cost.

The negative press the Lingua Franca sweater generated and the red flags raised by a #MeToo capsule collection lead us to ask: Whom do these politically charged fashions really serve? Although proceeds may indeed help some causes, the women most vulnerable to abuses of power often seem like afterthoughts by fashion brands. Is the goal actually to help them, or are these collections yet another way for the fashion elite to pat themselves on the back?

Update: Gabriella Meyer has issued the following statement in response to this article.

When Marta and I developed the idea of WE WEAR THE PANTS, we did it with the sole intention of starting a thought provoking conversation about sexual harassment for women in the workplace. Your article along with many others is proudly accomplishing that mission. We welcome all feedback on our collection and concept. As “women who wear pants”, we are listening to your voices.

We must acknowledge, we did not write the articles used in the design and were very careful to select global news articles that spoke to the issue from an organizational perspective which is the greater issue we are addressing. Our vision is to show that addressing the actions of organizational leadership, rather than calling out the bad apples, is the way to move us forward. The appearance of Weinstein’s name is an accurate reflection of the article’s reference of him in the subject matter. To change the article in any would be a disservice to the reporter, publication and the advancement of this important cause, but more importantly to the victims who so bravely have made sure their stories are being heard.

One important quality I would like to highlight is that we chose to laser print the articles on the denim. Though it creates a higher price point, this was a conscious decision to use laser engraving, as the textile print with fade with time and wear, like any pair of jeans. On a Conceptual level, this adds to the premise of this movement, and our collection.

Regarding pricing, we sincerely did everything that we could to address the price of the garment but we made a conscious decision to create the jeans with ISKO in an environmentally sustainable manner and the cost of those processes are reflected in the price and quality of the products.

We are incredibly touched by the outpouring of interest around our collection, and have fully listened to the constructive feedback and demand for making larger sizes available beyond the size 10. We are overjoyed that a broad range of women are so passionate about this cause and our collection. We are currently planning the second production run of this collection and with the extremely helpful feedback on sizing, extend the size runs we release.

Finally and most importantly, we are happy to report that since launching yesterday we have sold approximately 25% of our inventory in less than 24 hours this is a staggering amount of support and an indication that women are prepared to speak with their bodies and their pocketbooks on this important subject.

Again, we thank you so much for bringing your conversation to the surface and we acknowledge your support as a woman.