Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth is: How Brands Have Commercialized Political Efforts

With the long-awaited 2020 election getting closer by the minute, individuals and companies are seeking ways to encourage the nation to vote. The 2020 election, set against the backdrop of a global pandemic, has been said to be one of the most important elections yet. Every form of media is filled with messages promoting voter turnout. Fashion brands large and small are using their influence to inspire political action, yet it raises the question of if this effort is genuine or just for show.

This commercialization of politics in the fashion industry feels incredibly popular right now. Throughout the past few years, the national political climate has become increasingly tumultuous. Brands have taken stances on social issues and used their platforms and products to promote specific causes. In advance of the 2020 election, companies are using merchandise and social media to inspire customers to vote. All types of brands are trying to appeal to different audiences in an attempt to encourage them to engage in political activism. Mother Denim, for example, released a line of socks that read “I Am a Voter” in collaboration with an organization of the same title. Prabal Gurung sells a shirt that says “VOTE,” and Gap created a limited-edition collection of shirts and face masks with slogans to promote voting. 
 
At first glance, it is easy to think that this apparel is just performative activism. Just like celebrities and influencers, brands must take a political stance to send the message that they understand the general public’s frustration at the current political climate. But in 2020, consumers don’t just want a fashion statement, they want action taken. 
 
Brands are responding to this demand for action in many ways including donating profits and using their facilities and resources to register voters. Nili Lotan released a shirt for $125 that says “VOTE”  with all of the proceeds donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Michael Kors is selling shirts and sweaters with all of the proceeds going to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund as well. Saks Fifth Avenue has made Election Day a holiday for its corporate employees and set up an area at its flagship location for customers to register to vote, check their registration, or complete an absentee ballot. Old Navy is paying their employees to work at polling places on Election Day. Gap is donating $25,000 to When We All Vote and Rock the Vote. Most brands are focusing on promoting voter turnout rather than affiliating with a specific political party or viewpoint, with the exception of Patagonia who released shorts with the message “vote the assholes out” in tiny print on the tag.
 
It is clear that fashion brands are making political statements. It can be seen when someone walks down the street in a shirt that reads “VOTE” in big, bold letters and is evident through companies’ corporate initiatives and allocation of profits. Brands are no longer making surface-level efforts but are making it clear that their endeavors are authentic. Civic engagement and outreach have become too important for large companies to ignore. Indeed, fashion brands are making a statement: their political activism is genuine because this election is too important for it to be fake.

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