At first glance, fashion and social justice might seem like an odd pairing. But look closer and the similarities begin to emerge. Fashion, after all, is about perception, about image and the story that appearances convey. Weave that into social justice issues, and fashion becomes a powerful vessel to make statements about negative self-imaging, gender identity, diversity and inclusion.
University of Northern Iowa senior Kennedy Elliott knows this connection well. She’s been focusing on it since her freshman year.
That’s when Elliott, a textiles and apparel (TAPP) and marketing major, started participating with Uprising Magazine, a student-led publication advised by TAPP professor and School of Applied Human Sciences director Annette Lynch. The group included a diverse mix of majors from across campus who created the magazine as an outlet for student culture, fashion and music.
After a few years passed, Elliott and other new members realized that Uprising could be a voice for so much more on campus.
Fully embracing the evolution, she applied for and was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from the Principal Community Scholars Program. Her goal: to help elevate the magazine and create awareness about social justice issues on the UNI campus.
“The meaning of Uprising is to speak up and give voice to the voiceless,” Elliott said. “We were given this platform to give people a voice and support them. It’s not often that people get the opportunity to speak on these issues. It’s important.”
Elliott looked to professor Lynch’s dress and human behavior class for help. Students were encouraged to think about an area in society they wished to change or see better represented and asked to visualize how to express those ideas in one image that best articulated their “empowerment brand.” Elliott would then create a space for the students’ ideas to be brought to life on the pages of Uprising.
Two of the projects were featured in the spring 2019 issue of the magazine, alongside an array of student-written articles and poems that touched on a wellness theme. Junior Cassie Hendrix (TAPP, marketing) created the brand empowerment project #AuthenticallyMe to focus on breaking westernized beauty standards in media for the Asian American population, and junior Peter Lo (TAPP, interior design) created #REGIMEN, a campaign that defies the misconception that having a self-care routine is a feminine practice and educates men about the importance of hygiene routines.
Elliott hopes that this experience, and future opportunities, will help students pursue their projects beyond the semester, and create a real impact across campus. “There is a huge ripple effect,” said Elliott. “We’re empowering others to find their passion, and then giving them a platform to do something about it.”