Arguments for election reform, or attempts to overhaul the archaic, often-criticized Electoral College system in our country, are somewhat confusing at best. Typically, getting riled up about politics is centered around a particular party or candidate, not the process — nor how its results can differ from the popular vote, which is a truer, populist tally of what the people want. But that's what went down in the shocker of a presidential election last week, when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by one million votes and counting, yet ultimately lost the presidency to Donald Trump thanks to this damned system. Confusion aside, it's a decidedly unsexy topic that doesn't exactly feel like fashion fodder — at least, not in the same way as candidate-specific merch, like HRC-bedecked T-shirts or, yes, those red "Make America Great Again" caps. But artist Brendan Fowler is tackling the topic through clothing. His Election Reform collection of tees and hoodies is "ostensibly non-partisan," and explicitly addresses the failings of the current voting system and the prevailing two-party set-up. And while his project actually predates this election cycle, it couldn't feel timelier; a number of petitions to challenge or abolish the Electoral College are circulating, including this Change.org one that's amassed over 4.3 million signatures thus far. Plus, California Senator Barbara Boxer filed legislation yesterday to pass a bill that would abolish the current structure. Fowler's concept initially began as a sculpture called "Election Reform!," which he created three years ago for a New York City gallery (it's currently on display at LACMA). The piece, which was originally intended to be an ad for an album Fowler was working on for his band, BARR, then evolved into a clothing project: "I decided that it would be a more dynamic and relevant way to address and engage people around this topic of the American electoral system and its issues," Fowler tells Refinery29. (He collaborated with Eckhaus Latta on the label's spring 2017 collection, and he's currently working with A$AP Bari on the rapper's VLONE collection.) He used an industrial embroidery machine that involved massive 60-by-40 inch weavings, to create the richly textured effect "on faster, smaller, less precious works," like sweatshirts and tops that are crafted from recycled fabrics. FYI, time-intensive handiwork doesn't come cheap: These are $250 hoodies we're talking about, so while not quite at Vetements level, they're still not exactly accessible. Yet it's fascinating to see clothing focused on fixing how we vote, not who we're voting for.
Millennials elected Obama in 2008 and 2012 by force, and handed Donald Trump the election [last] week by not participating, so we have seen both swings of their power.
But, why would a multimedia artist opt to bring awareness to election reform via fashion, of all possible mediums? "I'm very struck by this moment that clothes are having in the culture," he explains. "Social media is allowing people to become editors of their own style publishing platforms; boys are getting way more openly into clothes, even following 'fashion' a mainstream way, and as the record industry is further evolving from its late-aughts collapse, it is looking to clothing as a business plan. Right now, I think that people care about clothing as much as they care about any sort of media, so it opens another space for dialogue." Fowler's misgivings about our voting system predate the stunning upset of the recent election, and the anger-turned-mobilization left in its wake. "A large part of why [our voting system] is so broken is because it is so neglected," he said. "We only talk about it every election cycle when something goes crazy; people get so mired in partisan battles they lose sight of problems that we all face. A lot of people don’t know about this stuff, because it's kind of just sitting there all the time, unglamorously just out of sight. Obviously, the first step in working out any of these problems is educating people that they exist." There's a key education element to his Election Reform endeavor: He's compiled readers about the topic that come with each item (but can also be downloaded for free), and they're filled with essays on the origins and current shortcomings of the Electoral College, felon disenfranchisement, and ballot fraud, which Fowler underscores are "issues which affect everyone in this country regardless of party affiliation." (He plans to include interviews with people involved in the Electoral College system in the next booklet.)
The 2016 election could be the rallying impetus for millennial and Gen Z voters to give a shit about how, exactly, our presidents land in the White House, and how that process can maddeningly not reflect the desires — and votes — of the masses. "The reality is, a lot of the onus is on millennials to really affect the system, because they are just stepping into direct political power and are the largest voting bloc in this country," he added. "Millennials elected Obama in 2008 and 2012 by force, and handed Donald Trump the election [last] week by not participating, so we have seen both swings of their power, demonstrated both through participation and abstinence. If we can get millennials to engage something, anything is possible." Perhaps we'll be seeing upheaval, or at least very serious challenging, of the outdated system as a result of Trump's win. The controversial 2000 election results, when George W. Bush beat out Al Gore, certainly pissed people off, too. But many millennials, and certainly their Generation Z counterparts, were just kids during that upset. Social media, too, was in infancy the last time the electoral college really pissed people off: Could it be a powerful tool for change? Possibly. If people, especially younger people, mobilize — even via fashion — around the voting system and its flaws maybe we will see change by 2020. "This is such a crazy time, but where there is dissatisfaction there is energy and potential," Fowler explains. "I just want people to understand that it’s up to us how it plays out."