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Climate Strikers in New York Used Fashion to Speak Their Minds

From slogan tees to wearable art, apparel was a vehicle protestors used to make their feelings known at the Global Youth Climate Strike.
On the streets at the New York Climate Strike. Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

On the streets at the New York Climate Strike. Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

While a flock of photographers crowded the streets of Milan to capture images of the parade of influencers leaving the much-discussed Versace show on Friday, a different kind of procession was happening on the streets of New York. 

In solidarity with youth around the world, New Yorkers flooded Manhattan to participate in the global Climate Strike. Led by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg and a host of local organizers, the demonstration was created to highlight the urgency of a global response to climate breakdown and to push for a transition away from the fossil fuels that are helping perpetuate it.

Over 250,000 people of all ages — from gradeschool kids to Cool Teens to millennials and their grandparents — crowded Foley Square and marched to Battery Park to hear from climate-conscious entertainers and speakers like Jaden and Willow Smith, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and Greta Thunberg. Along the way, demonstrators chanted slogans like "Fossil fuels have got to go!" and carried signs with contents that ranged from the funny to the factual to the profane.

Among their ranks were a host of fashion industry folks. Outdoor retailers like Patagonia and Burton closed their local stores for the day so their employees could join the march, while designer Mara Hoffman gathered with her colleagues and and their kids to make signs. Model Activist (aka the "model mafia"), a group of models that advocate for a more just and sustainable fashion industry, coordinated their outfits to match their signs and marched together.

Members of the "model mafia" at the Climate Strike in New York City. Photo: Benjamin Rosser

Members of the "model mafia" at the Climate Strike in New York City. Photo: Benjamin Rosser

"I feel that it is extremely important for members of the fashion industry to participate in events like this," Robin Shaw, a model who participated, said. "We need to recognize that our industry is a major contributor [to climate change]... I hope that major fashion brands recognize that complacency is no longer an option."

It wasn't just models who were intentional about the clothing they chose to wear that day.

A pair of 17-year-olds named Hazel and Soniya opted for matching DIY tube tops featuring pictures they'd painted. One had depicted Earth surrounded with pink hearts, and the other showed the planet being licked with red flames.

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On the streets at the New York Climate Strike. Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

On the streets at the New York Climate Strike. Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

"This is kind of like a before and after," Hazel said, motioning to their shirts. "You have to love your earth or the entire thing will burn."

Davey Mitchell, a performance artist and costume maker who's been working in the city since the early '80s, took a different approach to DIY. He wore a costume printed with an image he'd taken of trees in Central Park and wore a garland of fake flowers around his head, completing the look with a sign reading "Save Planet Earth." The costume had been in his collection for "quite a while," he said, but he thought it was "the perfect match" for the day's activities.

There were also a host of slogans worn on T-shirts, tote bags, makeshift capes and baseball caps. Some represented environmentalist organizations or Catholic anti-fossil fuel groups. 

Others alluded to what could be seen as the indirect impacts of a warming planet. One young man perched outside a second-story window sported a "Protect people, not borders" tee, perhaps as a reference to the way that extreme weather events spark migration, making climate and immigration issues inextricable from one another.

Still others opted for subtler ways to get their message across: a shirt covered with waves, calling to mind rising sea levels, or a top covered in lips that coordinated with a sign emblazoned "Read my lips: act now."

In the end, fashion is an imperfect medium for voicing complex opinions, and there were moments of cognitive dissonance involved in the whole endeavor — people wearing slogan T-shirts made from synthetic materials derived from virgin petroleum, which is itself a fossil fuel; or employing the motto of a brand known for its horrible environmental track record on a picket sign in favor of earth protection.

But still, the range of what people wore to the strike was a good reminder — especially in the middle of fashion month — that clothing is at its best when it connects us to meaning, community and a larger purpose.

See more images from the Climate Strike below:

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