CFDA: Why It’s So Much More than Fashion Awards

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Sarah G. Schmidt's home


Every year, the CFDA Awards honours the best of brightest of the fashion industry. Outside of the awards for the designers, they highlight stand out people outside of the immediate fashion community. This year, 3 Board of Directors’ Tribute awards were given to Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards; the inimitable powerhouse Gloria Steinem; and musician and actor, Janelle Monáe.

These three people have a diverse background, yet all come together as active, vocal, and put-money-where-their-mouth-is woke AF feminists. When describing the three honourees Vogue shared this: “At a time when the future seems uncertain and we are in the midst of political and social crises, women are suiting up to take charge, to stand up, to speak out, and to resist.” Heck yes.

This night married fashion and activism for a night of celebration and appreciation. This is pretty much my M.O. Hearing these women speak is powerful. They use their platform to inspire and affect change.

Each honouree had the chance to say a few words. Rather than paraphrase what they shared in their acceptance speeches, I though it would say more to let you read some nuggets in their own words.

Gloria Steinem, in Michael Kors Collection (8/63), shared the following to the room:

“…look at the Omo people of Africa, who decorate themselves every day with flowers and colors and all kinds of—you have to promise me to Google these folks—they are your ancestors. We have always decorated our bodies; it is noble, it is imaginative, it is part of our hearts, and that is your tradition from the past.”

“…we have to be careful and look out for each other. But just as we would never tell a woman to turn back to violence, we won’t turn back either. Now there is more activism than I have ever seen in my lifetime. And maybe, just maybe, thanks to all of you in this room and billions more around the world who are woke, we are not the richest but we are the majority, and we are woke and maybe we are about to be free.”

The President of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richard in Gabriela Hearst (13/63), shared this:

“…Our doors are open. And that’s because health care isn’t a privilege, it is a fundamental human right. That’s right, and we have to remind people of that. The fashion industry has long celebrated bodily autonomy and free expression and the right of every person to live their life on their own terms. In this moment, at a time when these principles are being threatened like never before, you are rising up to fight back.”

Perhaps the most personally affecting speech came from Janelle Monáe, in Christian Siriano.

“My relationship with fashion… began with my music as a way of paying homage to my working-class family. As a kid I had to get very creative because my parents could not afford the latest fashion… my mother was a janitor, my father was a trash collector, and my stepfather, just like my dad, worked at the post office, and they worked really hard to provide for my sister and me, and they wore those uniforms proudly, they helped build this country. They served their community with such great pride, and I stand here in my black and white giving honor to them.

… what I decided to do instead of complaining was start an organization, and I started a grassroots foundation called Fem the Future. Fem the Future aims to create high-level opportunities for young girls in the arts who lack opportunities because they are marginalized and stereotyped because of where they come from. Through these mentorship programs, we want them to know they can do anything a man can do. And not just that, but they have a right to the American dream no matter where they come from, no matter what they look like, and what god they choose to serve.”

These humans are living heroes. The next time someone tries to diminish the influence or relevancy of fashion, remind that person that fashion can help to facilitate expression. It can give platforms. It gets people excited and then you have a chance to share what’s on your mind. It’s a conversation starter.

Steinem, Richards, and Monáe show us over and over glowing examples of how to contribute, regardless of how difficult that may be. I hope they inspire you even a teeny tiny amount of how deeply they motivate me.

We need more. We need you. We should all be feminists.

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Check out last year’s coverage of the event where Beyoncé was awarded official CFDA ‘Style Icon’ status.