Still, Ms. Gustafson stands by the decision to give the garment a politically charged name. âWhen you create something, you have to give it a name,â she told me on Thursday. âMost of fashion has the most boring names ever because people donât want to have serious conversations in that realm, but itâs important that we talk about these issues in fashion.â
Sheâs right about that last point: Fashion can and should engage with political and humanitarian issues. But Uzi went about it the wrong way. Itâs just the latest case in the fashion worldâs long tradition of tone-deaf branding and promotion.
Over the past few years, weâve seen Dolce & Gabbanaâs $2,300 âslave sandals,â Zaraâs striped âsheriffâ childrenâs T-shirt with a yellow six-pointed star on the chest that looked a lot like a recycled Auschwitz uniform and Urban Outfittersâ $129 blood-spattered âvintage Kent State sweatshirt,â inspired by the 1970 campus shootings that left antiwar protesters dead on the university campus.
Just this summer, the artist and designer Katya Dobryakova debuted a âJungleâ line. Some of the T-shirts and sweats included images of animals like panthers and hippos, while other items featured images of Africans and Mexicans and had names like âEthnic Woman.â In addition to being pricey (a shirt goes for $185), Ms. Dobryakovaâs line was crude at best and racist at worst. The items were renamed on the site, avoiding much of the social media attention others have received.
Last year the actress Priyanka Chopra appeared on the cover of the Indian edition of CondÃ© Nast Traveler in a white T-shirt with the words ârefugee,â âimmigrantâ and âoutsiderâ crossed out, leaving the word âtravelerâ at the bottom of the list.
Critics were quick to point out that being a refugee isnât a choice. Ms. Chopra apologized. But this type of glamorization of displacement and the inaccurate depictions of immigration didnât go unnoticed by the Connor Brothers, two British artists. They visited the notorious refugee camp known as the âJungleâ in Calais, France, and were struck by just how inaccurate media depictions of the refugee crisis had been.
âThe disparity between the media representation and the reality was astounding,â said Mike Snelle, one of the artists. âThese were people, many of them children, escaping untold horrors of war and persecution, living in desperate squalor, abandoned by everyone and vilified in the media.â
In addition to returning to the Jungle several times and raising money to build shelters, mostly for unaccompanied children, the Connor Brothers responded the best way they know how: by creating edited versions of magazine covers and posting them around Britain.
As the Connor Brothersâ work underlines, refugees are neither âtravelersâ off to visit a beautiful new city nor adventure-seeking teenagers at the start of a âgap yah.â They certainly arenât willful nomads asking to be used as part of an advertising pitch to sell magazines or clothes.
âMigrant chic,â as Anna Wintour called it (and apologized for), doesnât and shouldnât exist. The lesson in these faux pas isnât that clothing companies should avoid current events or political causes. Itâs to do it sensitively and smartly.
Slow Factory, in Brooklyn, was founded in 2012 by CÃ©line Semaan, who was once a refugee, to create and sell products that raise awareness about the struggles faced by refugees and expose shoppers to issues like climate change. In the spring, the company manufactured scarves with digital images of cities in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen â the seven countries included in President Trumpâs first travel ban.
Angela Lunaâs Adiff designs for refugees include items like waterproof jackets that turn into tents. Even Pradaâs fall 2016 line subtly addressed the crisis with a heavily nautical menâs line featuring sailor hats, hanging shirt and coat collars, faded and distressed patchy fabrics, and cuffs appearing as though they were about to fall off. The message of a difficult journey taken on the sea was hard to miss.
As consumers, we should support the brands that are not just talking about the important humanitarian issues of our day but are also contributing to bettering the lives of those affected.
âFashion carries meaning, and meaning carries action,â Ms. Semaan said.