Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Fashion’s Cause Célèbre: World Peace

Ask me how I would define fashion and I’ll provide you a sketch. Albeit poorly drawn, it would be a spectrum of images beginning with draping fabric (aka “Toga” or “Grecian Goddess”) fastened by an ornate brooch or fancy knot paired with sole to the earth sandals, followed by corsets and men in tights, then delicate Victorian collars and tweed suits, the little black dress (thank you, Audrey!), the little black mini (thank you, Madonna!), and then menswear for women feminized with Manolo Blahniks or Christian Louboutins.

I’m not a fashion designer but I suspect our definition would be similar. Fashion is a perspective, social commentary, and personal dialogue with his/her muses. Fashion is also a mood that influences what you put on in the morning. Today, I want to channel Audrey, so I’ll slip on my Givenchy-inspired black dress.

What is definitive is that fashion speaks volumes. It sends messages daily of who we are through the clothes we wear and how they are worn. Its fashion personified.

Eventually, we evolve and so does fashion. Fashion will always be a source of personal identification, but now it challenges us to use our resources, time and awareness to invest in others. Designer Kenneth Cole pioneered a subtle yet compelling ad campaign addressing the AIDs epidemic in 1985. Honestly, I remembered learning about AIDs in freshman Health class but it was Cole’s bold ads that inspired me to act. I attribute my appreciation for cultural diversity in large part to Benetton.

Today, instead of sending a check to your favorite charity, you may opt to attend the organization’s fashion-themed fundraiser. Shop the silent auction or trunk show while learning how you can save the environment or support a group of artisans in Guatemala.

The Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP) is one such organization. In an effort to promote its mission, and in particular its Schools for Africa Project, the tradition of hosting a fashion show started in Japan and is now duplicated by its counterparts worldwide.

Caroline Betancourt, Vice President of the DC Chapter of WFWP, finds a commonality between fashion and peacebuilders.

“Fashion is an international art form beyond words to create a common bond,” says Caroline Betancourt, “which is similar to peace building.”

On Sunday, December 9, Washingtonians will convene at The Washington Times building to watch six international fashion designers present their designs at the 2nd Annual Fashion for World Peace fashion show.

Among them will be Ghanaian fashion designer, Afua Sam of Studio D-MAXSI.

The sought-after designer returns to the runway to present her latest collection of women’s apparel. However, the real goal is to support issues that affect women.

“The number one issue for me is female empowerment,” Ms. Sam said. “It is so important for young girls around the world to be empowered in all they do, whether it is academia or the arts. When the confidence of women are reinforced thus empowered, it makes for a better world. Women are such a source of strength for all mankind that enriching, educating and nurturing the female child is in essence making the world a better place.”

As producer of the show, Natasha Bryson of REDgemini, hopes the event draws a diverse audience.

“I think fashion is one of those things that any and everyone can identify with,” Bryson said. “Fashion essentially becomes the drawing card used to deliver the bigger message.”

Ms. Sam could not agree more.

“Fashion is a vehicle for social awareness,” Ms. Sam said. “A lot of people see fashion as fluffy and materialistic, however fashion is an industry that provides employment to so many around the world, it allows individuals to show their creativity and it serves as a source of income. My goal with Afua's Foundation is to raise awareness about issues that are important to me and utilize my work as a designer to provide as much financial support as I can through fundraisers, donations and personal contributions.”

Studio D-Maxsi will share the runway with renowned fashion designers Alek Risminic Couture, Estella Couture-Nigeria, Lenny Yorke, Magnami Style & Co, and Shaka King.

In addition to a silent auction, the WFWP will present its Ambassador of Peace award to Carol Schwartz, At-Large City Council member and Congresswoman Diane E. Watson, California’s 33rd District of the House of Representatives in recognition for their contributions to peace building, education and human rights for women and children.

WFWP, USA is based on the belief that the family is the cornerstone for peace in the world, and that mature couples are the foundation for strong and loving families. WFWP, USA encourages every woman to become a "woman of peace" through cultivating her mother’s heart, to care for all children and families throughout the world, by developing and utilizing the qualities of empathy, forgiveness, and unconditional love. For more information, visit www.fashionforpeace.org.

Ask someone what fashion means to them and hopefully you will hear the words catalyst for change.