Fashion trends have always been a visual history of social and political changes. We can see this in women’s fashion in the 1920s and 1960s, allowing for designs that helped women to feel liberated. In the 1980s men’s fashion borrowed from women’s designs highlighting the rise of a new version of the Alpha Male. Right now, the Canadian fashion industry is seeing a rise in feminist themes in design, and steps (okay, baby steps) towards environmentally-conscious practices.
However, mainstream fashion has always shied away from directly addressing social issues and advocating for the marginalized. Fashion has most often reacted to events and movements already in full swing instead of inspiring the changes of the future and helping to spark new ideas. More often than not, they rarely carry any weight in creating a culture of education and advocacy in the fashion industry, and the change they do inspire takes a really long time to actualize.
Stand Up Speak Up is a fashion venture that is here to change that. Based in the GTA, the brand’s mission is quite literally to stand up and speak up for the marginalized and promote inclusion and advocacy. They works with artists around the world to curate a collection of designs that speak to the world’s historical, social and political stories regardless of race, religion, culture and class.
Some of the issues they address in their collection include mental health stigma, bullying, racial discrimination and abuse against Indigenous women. Each design is meant to spread awareness and spark conversations that will increase people’s knowledge of important issues. For example, their Zero Discrimination collection is very relevant today, with the rising prevalence of xenophobia and efforts to define people as part of one box.
For Stand Up Speak Up, fashion is not superficial. There is an intent behind each design to spread awareness and build community through education. They really do practice what they preach. All of the photos on their website are unedited and feature real people – many of whom personally connect with these designs and issues.
Ryerson Ted Rogers School of Management board member Karla Tolstoy founded Stand Up Speak Up with her teenage son, Zach. After years of success in the corporate world, she’s bringing her expertise and compassion to the brand by providing young people with the opportunity to get involved in social issues. They offer a paid internship to a university student and have recently launched the Stand Up Speak Up Youth Advocacy Committee, which helps teens and young people to spread awareness through social media and online channels about topics that they are passionate about.
Stand Up Speak Up Fashion has made it their goal to accomplish 3,000 Acts of Kindness by the end of year 2020 with proceeds from each sale going towards this initiative! So help them out by shopping your favourite collection. Feeling inspired by what they do and how they’ve harnessed the power of fashion? Apply for their super cool internship opportunity!
**This Industry Profile was produced in collaboration with SUSU and was written by their Public Relations Coordinator Saliah Chaudhry. We received no financial compensation for this collaboration.
*Feature Graphic by Roy Luo.