Fashion Muse

Philanthropic Fashion

Maya Barber interviews refugee charity SolidariTee on using fashion as a primary way to raise awareness and funds.

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Image Credit: Amy Cope

The fashion industry has a reputation for overly promoting consumerism, whilst having a blind spot regarding social values. Whether it be fast fashion brands such as Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo, or designer labels like Gucci or Louis Vuitton, all ends of fashion can be critiqued in this way. When we purchase from these major brands, once our pin has been entered, our money seems to vanish, presumably finding its way into the pockets of various major corporations. However, our retail buys do not have to feel so inconsequential. With approximately 3.56 billion British pounds being spent on clothing in Great Britain in January 2020 alone, many charities have chosen to capitalise on the booming industry.

Traditionally non-profit organisations have relied on recycling second-hand clothing, but some charities have instead created their own labels to raise funds and awareness for their cause. One charity that puts fashion at the forefront of their image is SolidariTee. SolidariTee is an international, student-led charity which aims to raise awareness of the refugee crisis, and further the provision of sustainable, long-term support to refugees. With over 25.9 million refugees in the world, SolidariTee are taking a unique and accessible approach in contributing to conquering the crisis. I spoke to the executive director of the charity Alexa Netty, who outlined their ethos:

“Our vision is a world in which every person who is forced to flee their home has access to legal support, as is their fundamental right.”

Though, their endeavours are two-fold: “Alongside this, our mission is to unite the student body in solidarity with refugees, and to empower students, as the next generation of educators, voters and policy makers, with the tools and confidence to stand up for refugee rights throughout their future lives.”

When asked why SolidariTee chose fashion specifically as a vehicle for spreading their message, Alexa explained that “fashion is one of the most powerful ways to express one’s individuality, personality and values, and that’s why we feel it goes so well with our awareness raising mission.”

SolidariTee specifically uses t-shirts to raise awareness. The charity is based at more than 40 Universities across the world, with over 450 student volunteers. The tees are given to the student representatives, and they sell the 20 shirts over the academic year at £12 each to raise money for the cause. There is also an online shop through which anyone can purchase the tees and other pieces with the current SolidariTee design.

However, Alexa noted that the shirts are more than just a way to raise funds; the items themselves represent much more: “At SolidariTee, our t-shirts are a very visual display of unity – a physical stance showing that the student body truly does stand in solidarity with refugees. In addition to raising vital funds for the NGOs we support, the shirts are also a powerful awareness-raising tool and conversation starter, since all of the designs on our shirts are based around refugee or refugee-inspired artwork."

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Image credit: Amy Cope

The design of the shirts themselves are significant. As Alexa said, the designs printed on the tees are all made by refugees or are inspired by them. The 2020/21 range is inspired by a collaborative art initiative at Elpída Home, a community centre in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, who work to provide and improve humanitarian support for refugees and asylum seekers. Alexa visited Thessaloniki herself to learn more about the work being done by the NGO in the area. She was shown around the Elpída Home community, and was incredibly moved by the piece of art in the entrance hall.

“It was created during an art workshop”, Alexa explained, “in which a group of refugees and asylum seekers stood against a large piece of paper and traced each other's outline. Some overlapping, others distinct by nature, each outline, shape, and figure reflects a constellation of diversity, individuality and community,”.
SolidariTee is not only committed to making sustainable change in the refugee crisis, they have also put sustainability at the forefront of their t-shirt design. The t-shirts are 100% organic, vegan and Fair Wear certified, and printed using vegan and 100% phthalate-free water-based inks. Using fast fashion, meaning poor working conditions and below minimum wage for many workers in the manufacturing process, would be counterintuitive when trying to raise awareness. Raising funds in an eco-conscious way ensures that all their actions have a positive impact on the world.

SolidariTee also have a range of additional ways to contribute other than purchasing merchandise: “Whilst we really believe in the power of the t-shirts, if someone doesn’t want or isn’t going to wear one, we’d far rather they contributed another way, either by attending one of our events, buying one of our ‘virtual gifts’ or simply sharing one of our posts.”

Non-profit organisations like SolidariTee are using fashion to promote the welfare of others and raise awareness for current world issues. It is both refreshing and inspiring to see a medium that is so often associated with consumerism, waste and trends being used for something that is creating long-lasting change.

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Image credit: Amy Cope

SolidariTee also have a range of additional ways to contribute other than purchasing merchandise: “Whilst we really believe in the power of the t-shirts, if someone doesn’t want or isn’t going to wear one, we’d far rather they contributed another way, either by attending one of our events, buying one of our ‘virtual gifts’ or simply sharing one of our posts.”

Non-profit organisations like SolidariTee are using fashion to promote the welfare of others and raise awareness for current world issues. It is both refreshing and inspiring to see a medium that is so often associated with consumerism, waste and trends being used for something that is creating long-lasting change.

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