Last New York Fashion Week, Tanya Taylor said goodbye to all of that — the mad dash leading up to your allotted time slot on the calendar, the back-to-back debuts saturating everyone's social feeds, the crowds of Spring Studios. She instead gave her customers a humorous, self-aware look at the pageantry of fashion week — and at her Fall 2020 collection — through a series of comedy sketches. Taylor is returning the short film format once again, but not to showcase a Spring 2021 line: She's reminding everyone to register to vote.
In a series of videos titled "Things That Take Longer Than Registering to Vote," a cast that includes Rosario Dawson, Mindy Kaling, Zosia Mamet, Michelle Buteau, Stephanie Beatriz, Iskra Lawrence, Michelle Kwan and Hillary Clinton filmed themselves doing a range of everyday activities that take about two minutes — the same amount of time it would take someone to register to vote in the U.S. using the Action button on Taylor's website: taking off their makeup (Dawson), watering plants (Kaling) and playing fetch with a dog (Clinton). These will be rolled out on the brand's Instagram, as well as on each talent's pages.
"If everyone knew how easy it was, they'd have no excuse not to do it," Taylor says, on a Zoom call ahead of the premiere. "It takes two minutes to register. I think everyone does a lot of mundane things in their daily activities that take two minutes."
These videos are also part of Taylor's continued involvement with Fashion Our Future 2020. (She was a founding member.) Before the campaign even came to be, she was on a group text with a whole bunch of American fashion designers. "We had a standing Zoom call every Monday at noon, which I was so grateful to be a part of — Prabal [Gurung] texted me like, 'You should be a part of this.' I was like, 'Sign me up,'" she remembers. "I wanted at that time to know what other designers were doing with rent, fashion week, retailers canceling orders. I just thought that, collectively, if we were sharing what was happening, we could probably have more power."
That's where she met Abrima Erwiah, co-founder of Studio 189 and the person who would lead the charge with Fashion Our Future 2020. "One day she said, 'Guys, I really just want to make New York Fashion Week about voter registration.' And I was like, 'That's cool.' I felt like someone hadn't put an objective forward as to what New York Fashion Week could be about — everyone knew that it needed to be about something different," she says. Taylor reached out to her personally to introduce her to the Action button, which was founded by her friend Jordan Hewson, and remained involved in the conversation as Erwiah formalized what would become Fashion Our Future 2020.
"The videos that we are producing for fashion week came from both wanting to find a way to support Fashion Our Future 2020, but also thinking of our customer," Taylor explains. "I've said this for a couple of seasons, but our customer really doesn't know when New York Fashion Week is and can sometimes feel disengaged, because there's not a way that they can participate. And at this time, we didn't want them to be buying things. It felt like what is more urgent is to think about the election, about how all eyes are on the fashion industry this week. There's a lot of curiosity around how brands are going to use their platforms for speaking about brand values. It just felt like a really important move to say, 'We're not going to try to show you some clothes and talk about some politics. We're just going to talk about social interests.'"
That's not to say there won't be looks: The cast is wearing pieces from the brand that are currently available for purchase, but the intent isn't to "commercialize their participation," according to Taylor: "It was just more to make them have nice clothes to wear."
There also is a Spring 2021 collection — we just won't see it until February. "We spent the entire summer making it. It's unbelievable. It makes me the happiest," she teases. "It makes me also so excited to show people though in February, because I think that we need to show it when someone can buy it. We need to pivot our approach to our customer being at the center of all of the decisions and also definitely towards more of a direct-to-consumer model."
Still, it wanted to keep its slot on the New York Fashion Week calendar — which it has had for nine years — as a way to not only bring attention to the work of Fashion Our Future 2020, the importance of the upcoming election and the brand's values, but also as a way to "rip the bandaid off and skip a season one time," so it can then be aligned with the calendar. That way, when images and reviews of the collection drop, they'll be for product that's "about to ship, so we could really leverage speaking publicly about a collection and using that to inform a customer," Taylor reasons.
"It just felt like if there's any time to do something a little more radical, it felt like this season," she adds.
Having been a part of New York Fashion Week for almost a decade, Taylor understands its reach and the impact the biannual event can have on a brand. This season, she believes that's heightened: "International eyes are on New York, specifically, because it's the first fashion week [amid] this pandemic, to see how our industry [is] presenting itself."
With these videos, the brand wants to not only galvanize its audience, but also "prove that it doesn't hurt our business," Taylor says. "We are still having incredible sales appointments. Our retailers are still investing in us, surprisingly, during this time. I don't see it affecting our business at all, so it's really important for people to feel that that risk is worth it, and that brands that are standing up for what they believe in right now are just doing what's right."
The first time Taylor explicitly engaged with politics through her company was during the 2016 presidential election, when she designed a T-shirt for the Clinton campaign. "We sell to every state in the United States. We're widely distributed, so I definitely was aware of the risk [at the time], knowing that some of our customers wouldn't agree with those beliefs," she recalls. "To this day, we have many customers that are probably not politically aligned, but they know what we stand for and it's their choice if they're buying the collection. But there's been very little pushback."
Still, Taylor tells us she feels compelled to speak on these issues not just as a designer, but also as an employer: "Even in the way that we approach designing, we make clothes that empower women and celebrate the diversity of beauty, and I think the same thing with the country. Running a business in the U.S. and knowing that I have 25 employees that will be affected by who is in the leadership, I feel a lot of responsibility to try to use any voice we have to have leadership that reflects our values."
Over the next few weeks, the brand will continue to promote voter registration through early October, and "start talking about how the candidate you vote for actually matters and your voice matters." (You can check your state's deadline here.) It's also releasing product that'll benefit the Lower East Side Girl's Club and Fashion Our Future 2020.
This video series relates back, in a larger sense, to the Tanya Taylor brand, according to its founder. Yes, it comes down to clothes, but it's just as much about what the clothes communicate. "I feel like there's this rebalancing that we're talking about a lot right now, between what are our passions and what is our purpose," she says. "Passion, to me, is all about design, art and painting, and purpose is really about speaking up for what our values are, as a team. And I think that's still aligned with the brand."