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How big brands can approach Pride Month without coming off as disingenuous

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH CONVERSE

Words by Giulia Brugliera

It’s about elevating voices, not just faces.

After more than a decade in fashion, from working the shop floor to running a magazine, it would be easy for me to grow disenfranchised with the fashion industry. Fashion can be an incredible vehicle for broader societal change (just look at the success of Clothing the Gaps’ Free the Flag campaign) but also be frustratingly slow to adapt – particularly where inclusivity is concerned.

The industry is littered with well-intentioned projects striving to be more inclusive of minorities. I’ve been on shoots with ‘plus-size’ models where the clothes don’t actually fit, and seen runway shows casting people with disability where the models can’t actually make it down the runway. I myself have published articles in support of minority groups, without actually consulting members of the groups I’m purporting to support. Yes, it’s with good intentions, but ultimately it ends up being an ill-executed attempt to be more inclusive. 


Keep up to date with industry shifts over at our Fashion section. 


The common thread is when group members are missing in action behind the scenes. It’s the difference between ‘slapping a rainbow’ on a T-shirt to capitalise on Pride month, and genuinely creating space for voices in the LGBTIQA+ community to be heard.

I’ve seen the good and the bad in this arena. And while I won’t name names (everyone is on their own journey towards genuine inclusivity) one company I’ve consistently been impressed with is Converse. 

“It’s all about the fact that they bring in queer people and allow them to express [their] own viewpoints and opinions, instead of just slapping queer iconography onto people taking photos,” says Oisin O’Leary, a queer actor and member of LGBTIQA+ advocacy group, Minus18

We’re on the phone discussing the brand’s approach to representation and why, for a global brand, it feels so genuine.  

Oisin was one of five talent cast in a shoot for the Australian chapter of the global Converse Pride campaign, set to be released from June 10. Alongside him were four other queer talent in front of the camera, and an entirely queer crew of Converse All Stars behind the lens, responsible for driving the brand’s Pride storytelling here in Australia. 

“It’s meant the world for me to be involved,” notes Oisin, and it’s a sentiment echoed by the other creatives I talked to on set. 

Sydney-based filmmaker and Converse All Star Annabel Newland, who was responsible for the shoot’s creative direction, says it was unlike anything she’s experienced on set before.

“Everyone was so honest and vulnerable and there to support each other,” she explains when I ask why this shoot was different to others. “Everyone on the sidelines was just cheering.” 

“It feels like we’re making content for the LGBTQIA+ community and I think that’s so special because Pride can sometimes be this capitalistic venture, wanting to capitalise on the changing culture of [the] moment, of more inclusivity and diversity.” 

Globally, more than 50 creatives from Converse’s queer community have joined the brand’s overarching Pride campaign and are wholly responsible for the direction it’s taken. This year, that’s a digital gallery of creative works – including photographs, written letters, and art – sourced from around the world and centred on the theme of ‘found family’. 

The concept of a found family is powerful for anyone who has found those close relationships outside of their birth family. But it can be even more potent for those in the LGBTQIA+ community who may have been ostracised from their family structures when opening up about their sexuality, often for cultural or religious reasons. 

Oisin puts it beautifully in our chat. “It’s kind of like this collection of old souls [in the LGBTQIA+ community]. You’ve never met each other before but you know exactly what each other has gone through, you know how it is for everyone. So there’s not all that introductory stuff… we know each other through the collective experience.” 

What’s particularly beautiful about this Pride project is that authentic representation here runs deeper. Each piece in the capsule features a graphic patchwork representing the diversity of the community and the mantra ‘Family, Unity’. The design is intended to remind us that while we’re each different, we can always come together with love. 

Another arm of the Pride activity is Converse’s ongoing support of the LGBTQIA+ community through its five-year-long partnership with Minus18. The Australian charity improves [the] lives of LGBTQIA+ youth through life-affirming events, education, advocacy, support and youth empowerment, and offered five brilliant individuals in its network the opportunity to appear on camera for this project. Alongside Oisin, one of these was Australian musician Ed Moon

“I’d gone to a few Minus18 events as a kid but being out on the [Mornington] Peninsula there weren’t that many queer representatives.” That representation was fundamental to developing Ed’s identity as a queer person. “I see now how much of a superpower it is.

“I made a really clear point that I wanted to wear [my queerness] as part of my musicality… it became apparent to me there was gravity in what I was doing.

“But it went to the next level when I was able to sit down [with others in the Minus18 community] and have conversations, and show my music and explain the meanings behind it. Then I would see all the kids from Minus18 following me afterwards. It was like, ‘Oh, okay, I am that queer person for these kids that I always wanted to be’.” 

Ultimately Ed echoes the sentiments of Oisin, that it’s one thing to be seen but another entirely to be heard.

It’s a big reason why, in partnership with Converse, Fashion Journal is elevating queer voices for Pride month. Thanks to Converse, we’re welcoming a queer guest editor from the Converse All Star community to guide our storytelling throughout the month. Stepping up to the plate is Rimu Bhooi a queer, non-binary, disabled Indian of Punjabi Sikh descent, working as a writer, board member, creative, and an activist for human rights and the most marginalised communities. Fashion Journal readers can expect to see their work roll out from today. 

In the meantime, FJ readers can explore dozens of stories from the global Converse queer community online at the Converse.Gallery and shop the Pride collection here

For more Pride stories, keep an eye on Converse’s socials here.

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