The Jigsaw AW17 advert is a powerful exercise in the art of leaving nothing to the imagination. Across tubes, on buses and in magazines, the statement ‘❤ immigration’ in nice white lettering runs across images of diverse models in the AW17 designs.
The message that Jigsaw is supporting – that it loves immigration and celebrates the breadth of nationalities and ethnicities required to create its clothes – is fundamentally a good one. I too love immigration, as do the large majority of Londoners – a city where, for most, this isn’t their original home.
But – putting aside the question of how ethical a brand that uses materials from 16 countries in one item of clothing is – there’s a wider issue at play: what does ‘❤ immigration’ mean in practice? It isn’t exactly clear.
Jigsaw does attempt to expand on its assertion: ‘There’s no such thing as 100% British’ the advert explains, ‘as a clothing brand, we couldn’t do what we do if people weren’t free to run around the world.’ ‘We need,’ it says ‘beautiful minds from around the world, working with beautiful materials around the world, to make beautiful things for people around the world.’
So far, so repetitive – and so vague. What is a beautiful mind, beautiful material, a beautiful thing? And to be a little more pedantic, ‘around the world’ doesn’t suggest a place. The repetition and vagueness actually renders the whole thing quite stagnant, which is ironic.
Meanwhile, Huffington Post ran a piece on the campaign with the headline ‘Jigsaw’s Brexit-Inspired ‘Heart Immigration’ Campaign Is Nailing Wokeness Like No Other British Brand RN’.
It certainly is woke, but to what ends?
Commandeering a political statement as a means of making your brand look engaged is insincere. Making a statement means nothing without follow through, and a quick scan of interviews suggests that Jigsaw’s commitment stops with statement, not with a new initiative to offer equal opportunities, to commit to diversity or even to commit to education in a meaningful way. ‘We were conscious we didn’t want to approach this with a Pepsi-Kendall Jenner mentality and to make a political statement just for the sake of it,’ Jigsaw’s Alex Kelly told Marketing Week. But running a slogan such as this over models in £200 pleated skirts and silk polo necks suggests otherwise.
In the same interview, Kelly makes another interesting assertion: ‘John Robinson started the business by bringing an Afghan coat back to the UK in the 1970s. Our brand is built on immigration.’ Here, Kelly seems to confuse immigration with importation; being inspired by different cultures isn’t the same as integrating immigration and diversity into the heart of your brand.
The Jigsaw advert is just the most recent example of fashion brands making sometimes flimsy political or activist statements for the sake of it.
At Dior, Marie Grazia Chiuri walked models down the SS17 catwalk in t-shirts that said ‘We should all be feminists’. It was another example of harnessing a serious theme for frivolous means; feminism isn’t a commodity. Moreover, if Dior really thinks we should all be feminists, then are they willing to take action and commit to promises such as equal pay across their workforce? For SS18, their show began with ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’ Originally asked by art historian Linda Nochlin, the statement is provocative and thought provoking, and, in credit to Chiuri, Nochlin’s full manifesto was put on seats at the show. But the moment these t-shirts leave the runway they lack context and, in daily life, few have time to stop and engage with the philosophy amidst a hectic commute.
There’s also a slew of major brands who posit themselves as sustainable, claiming to champion eco-friendly fashion at a top level without pushing back in any real way against an industry that continues to operate on a person’s need for new things. It’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to resolve these kind of tensions and contradictions.
Conversely, Ashish’s ‘Immigrant’ jumper is a powerful example of when sartorial statements work: the difference being that the statement is active, and the association personal. The slogan ‘Immigrant’ unpacks into ‘I am an immigrant’, which is different to saying ‘we love immigrants’. Ashish acts as an example of what woke brands should look like, and the important political role fashion can play when properly considered.
The intentions behind Jigsaw’s campaign are undoubtedly good, but fashion is mired in contradictions. Until it begins to reconcile and work hard to change the industry from top to bottom, maybe brands should hold their tongue.