As Abortion Vote Nears, Irish Fashion Designers Choose a Side

Fashion & Style / Monday, May 14th, 2018

Ms. O’Connor, the milliner, who lived in Britain for eight years before moving back to County Clare in western Ireland in 2017, said: “I can look back at this and see that I spoke out, created some art and at least did something. I’d hate to look back 20 years from now and think I was one of the people in the corner who said nothing because it felt safer.”

That the established fashion community, predominantly populated by left-leaning social liberals in Ireland as it is in many countries, overwhelmingly landed on the side of abortion rights is not surprising to many observers. (In the United States, the Council of Fashion Designers of America has supported Planned Parenthood, handing out pink pins during one fashion week.)

“Wearing what you believe is more apparent with this debate in Ireland than ever before,” said Deirdre McQuillan, the fashion editor of the Irish Times newspaper. “One of the most powerful symbols of the entire pro-choice movement has been the Repeal Project sweatshirts, which you now see out on the streets at the moment almost every day.”

Black with the word “Repeal” stamped in a slogan-like graphic across the front, these sweatshirts were the brainchild of the activist Anna Cosgrave. She founded the Repeal Project after attending a vigil for Savita Halappanavar, an Indian-born woman whose death in 2012, after her requests for an abortion were refused by a hospital in Galway, Ireland, prompted widespread outcry across the country.

“I wanted people that otherwise felt nervous about the political and academic rhetoric around reproductive rights to be able to wear a jumper and be like, ‘I care,’ without necessarily having any of the linguistics or technical terms,” Ms. Cosgrave said of her sweaters. “By choosing these clothes, wearers are silently screaming. By seeing the jumpers over and over again out and about, it normalizes conversations about abortion, while showing that there is support there for the women who have had them and suffered in silence.”

Similarly, an alliance called Abortion Rights Campaign has been selling popular T-shirts printed with “Free Safe Legal.” And Repealist, a brand that specializes in clothing and housewares, has created a dress that reads, “Our Bodies Our Choice,” with a print of an upside-down hanger, emblazoned with “Hanging in the Balance.”

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