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Breastfeeding on the Runway: How Fashion Can Support Women

 When Mara Martin was breastfeeding her daughter backstage at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit show, she had no idea she would soon be making a splash on the world’s stage.

Image credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images 

MJ Day, the editor of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, said “Mara was holding her baby and was nursing her. I was like, ‘Do you want to just nurse when you walk down the runway?’ She was like, ‘I would love to do it that.’” (via Today)
 
While high-fashion is often uniquely feminine, it doesn’t always embrace all the things that make femininity so unique. The old-fashioned dichotomies that have had a stranglehold on the way we perceive women for so long are still mostly in place. This includes the tired idea that women are old or young, they are either mothers, or they are objects of desire. While fashion is meant to be a sanctuary for femininity and creative expression, it instead puts women into boxes and defines them as one thing only. There isn’t usually room for grey area. But when Martin stepped on stage in a glorious golden bikini, radiating under the stage lights with her 5-month-old in her arms, she reminded the world that confidence and motherhood aren’t mutually exclusive.
Women are blurring the lines between these black and white notions of what we can and cannot be, and the rest of the world needs to pay attention. Feeling confident, sexy, and proud isn’t the privilege of the child-free twenty-something anymore.
Female empowerment has been embraced to an extent in modern fashion, however, this embrace isn’t necessarily sincere. For most organisations, empowerment is a buzzword. It’s scribbled on a whiteboard in someone’s office and used as a shallow mask to appeal to a group of people that are only seen as potential dollars in the bank. Like all movements for social change, there will always be those who jump on the bandwagon for their own profit and jump right off before the real work starts.
That being said, it’s not all corporate cynicism. There are myriad examples of companies, particularly in fashion, that are taking female empowerment to heart. They don’t have it scribbled on their whiteboards, they shout it from their rooftops, and make it their mission to leave the world in a better state than when they began. 

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ROBB & LULU

When looking for a business that really cares about helping women find their strength, we don’t need to look too far. Robb & Lulu is a prime example of the real deal, starting from the very top, with illustrator and director Lulu Zagame. While she doesn’t like the limelight, Lulu is truly a force. She has created a company that not only has a strong eco-friendly foundation and ethos but aims to help women find their strength, by providing unparalleled athletic swimwear, with a fashionable twist. 

By bringing an edge of style to high performance, training swimwear, Lulu is filling a huge gap in the market. FiT Swimwear allows women to reach their fullest athletic potential while encouraging them to express themselves through a diverse range of beautiful, and fashionable designer swimwear. Strength and femininity don’t need to be separate. Lulu believes that whatever represents you as a woman, should be worn with pride. The notion that an athletic woman is any less feminine, that she has less passion, or a lesser desire to express herself, is entirely wrong. We know it, you know, Lulu knows it. So why keep pretending? Robb & Lulu are ditching the pretence and embracing a new outlook. The days of sacrificing your fun side so you can succeed are long gone, and FiT Swimwear by Robb & Lulu is making sure it stays that way.

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ROOKIE MAG

Rookie Mag is an online magazine based in the US that gears towards teenage girls. Rookie Mag covers everything from fashion to feminism. While there are plenty of publications that share a number of similarities with Rookie Mag, what makes this ragtag outlet stand out is its realness. Rookie Mag was started in 2010, by fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson when she was only 15 years old. Gevinson had been blogging on her site Style Rookie since she was 11, and her massive readership and popularity landed her interviews with The New York Times, and front row seats at Paris Fashion Week before she was even a teenager. Gevinson’s skill was bringing her fresh outlook to an old medium – she looked at journalism from her own perspective and put what she saw back into the world. Rookie Mag took off because although she was writing for a younger audience, her work never talked down because she was talking to her peers.

But so much success at a young age led to a lot of cynicism and criticism in the fashion community. Despite her age, and the fact she hadn’t even finished high school, Gevinson refused to take all the hate lying down. Gevinson said, “a lot of people on the Internet have a problem with a young person doing well. I felt like, there were people who were [at fashion week] because of their name, their money or their family, and I didn't have any of those things.” 

Ultimately Gevinson used her status, and success in the fashion industry, to give other young women a voice in the world, and a place to go to feel like they belong; Rookie Mag.

Gevinson exists on the opposite end of the spectrum to figures like Mara Martin. For Martin, the expectation is that having a child means her time to find success or meet her career goals is over, for Gevinson, being a child meant that her success wasn’t allowed to start. This warped timeline of success leaves women such a short window to find themselves and make their mark, and Gevinson and Martin are prime examples of figures who have ditched the old way of thinking.

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 NUBIAN SKIN

Much like Robb & Lulu and Rookie Mag, Nubian Skin is a brand focussed around giving a voice to a group that is often ignored in the fashion market and wider world. Nubian Skin was founded in 2014 by British businesswoman Ade Hassan, and earned her the title of Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards that same year.

Nubian Skin is a brand that makes underwear, hosiery, and shoes in nude tones for women of colour. Most women of fairer complexions take for granted that they can head into the underwear or hosiery section of their favourite store and pick up sheer pantyhose or no-show underwear that match their skin tone. Hassan was frustrated that she didn’t have the same experience and decided to change that herself. She spoke about wanting young girls with dark skin to have tights to wear with their school uniforms, and elderly women going to church no longer having to worry about wearing pale toned pantyhose. The Nubian Skin motto is “empowering women and embracing our colour”. And Hassan has done both in equal measure. Since her brand went viral after launching the first image of their product, Nubian Skin has been talked about by Kerry Washington, and has even been worn by the Queen herself; Beyoncé.

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The way that women are perceived in fashion is certainly changing. Fashion is supposed to be something inherently feminine, yet so many groups of women find themselves excluded; for being mothers, for being too old or too young, for not having the ‘right’ skin tone. But this season, change is the new black. Whether this is a small change, like a model taking an extra passenger down the catwalk, or a big change, like showing athletic women they can feel beautiful and strong at the same time, it all adds up.