There is a chill in the Denver air as fall dissipates, or is that the harsh realization of the country’s current political climate setting in again, one eventful year later? Many feelings are bubbling up once more, leaving people scrambling to find emotional outlets. For some, it’ll be screaming into the night air, for others, it’ll be as simple as donning a t-shirt created by one of Denver’s fashion activism designers. “America is in a dark place right now,” explained Mowgli Miles, creator of the local clothing label, Interracial Friends. “People are truly feeling the need to show their feelings and opinions with such pressing issues within our world, and one of the ways they are doing that is through the clothes they wear.”
Fashion activism picked up speed in the last year, as titans of industry like Raf Simons brought politics to the runway. Simons’ debut line as creative director for Calvin Klein was arguably one of the most spellbinding runways shows at New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 17. The waves it made found their way to the west and inspired us to wear our hearts on our sleeves.
“With such ugly issues that we face daily as a society, fashion gives us our own platform to speak our minds,” said Miles. “The force that fashion carries can make the heaviest of topics more subtle and easily approachable to talk about.” Miles launched Interracial Friends in 2014, with a basic tee branded with his “IF” logo. It was a simple design with a powerful call to action. “Supreme, Yeezy, Adidas, whomever you want to name, my brand has hype like them, but it also has a real message behind it to offer at the end of the day,” he said. “My message is to end racism to the best of our abilities while reminding everyone that we are all equals, and you support that message anytime you wear my logo or anything I’ve put out.” For him, it isn’t about the clothing itself, but about what it means and the effect it has, something he has in common with Darian Simon and his business partner, Julian Donaldson, creators of Be A Good Person (BAGP) clothing.
“It’s a message that’s massive and has a lot of responsibility, but it also transcends boundaries and demographics.”
Simon and Donaldson started BAGP two years ago not so much to sell a product, but to create a movement. “It’s a message that’s massive and has a lot of responsibility, but it also transcends boundaries and demographics,” said Simon. “People can figure out what it means to them and apply it in a genuine and direct manner without conforming to my ideas or those of anyone else.” The goal isn’t to end anything, it’s just the beginning of what they hope will be a new way of approaching life. Wearing BAGP gear means thinking about what kind of an impact you have the ability to make in everyday life. “I’m thankful for everyone who believes in us, because it takes more than just us to create change,” Simon said. “We can create a design, but it’s really everyone who puts that t-shirt on that makes the difference.” The word is definitely spreading. BAGP has been embraced by locals, Broncos players, star athletes like Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach, and celebrities like Lil’ Jon and Wiz Khalifa.
“We love that moment in the morning when you’re making a choice about what to wear and how to feel, so we targeted that moment.”
Brands like Forth Supply have a slightly different approach to empowering the masses. Rather than focusing on one cause, creators Ben Reisler and Cory Doney design specific capsule collections each season to pay homage to the causes that the garments themselves aim to fund. For example, their current Ace Capsule donates 20 percent of profits to The Home Front Cares, a nonprofit in Colorado Springs. “They’re a pretty amazing group, as they provide emergency grants to veterans in the Colorado area,” said Reisler. “The emergency grants are so momentary but so necessary, and they feel to us like wonderful moments of human-to-human compassion that we wanted Forth Supply to support.” Forth Supply’s next collection will benefit Platteforum, a local nonprofit in RiNo that teams underserved, urban youth with master artists in an effort to teach kids how to confront challenges and discover who they are through artistic expression. For Reisler and Doney, massive, compounding change comes from everyday thoughtfulness and intention. “We love that moment in the morning when you’re making a choice about what to wear and how to feel, so we targeted that moment for Forth Supply consumers as the moment when they can decide to stand for something more,” Reisler explained. “We like the parallel of waking up feeling like you can change the world, and putting on a garment that has helped do just that.” Forth Supply targets the millennial generation, describing it as one of the most giving and cause-conscious to date. It’s no surprise that this altruistic group would then support an entirely new cause—themselves.
Defiant Society‘s Anthony Roybal, Justin Sturgill and Austin Pitzer are part of a new generation of entrepreneurs who stand up for their generation through the streetwear they design. “Out of all the things, it’s the most important because we are standing up for the right and the choice to live our lives the way we want,” said Roybal. “All of the issues that come up in society are just pieces of it.” It’s their way of encouraging people to reject the status quo. “We’re sticking up for the right to question everything,” echoed Pitzer. “We’re not accepting the beaten path, we’re going for something riskier, because we are going to be able to live the way we want forever.” Christopher Mathews and fiancé Gilbert Hernandez created their clothing brand, Made Wild with the same fervent support for their peers. With slogans like “Resistance is Our Culture” and “Fuck the Hate,” they are anything but shy about their message. “I’m tired of us being embarrassed by our own generation, because we’ve done a lot of amazing things,” Mathews explained. “I want us to take back our name instead of everyone wanting to jump ship, because we’re in a cool club.”
There is no doubt that Denver is leading the charge in the fashion activism movement. The bold messages behind each of these clothing lines are calls to action, whether that be to practice random acts of kindness, or to rise up as a generation judged and criticized for existing. The question that still remains is a complex one: will what we wear really make America great again?