Fashion has long been a vehicle for expressing the political climate by way of sartorial choices. More recently though, clothing is playing an increasingly explicit role in communicating our viewpoints to the world, like wearing a pink pussy hat or donning red to represent solidarity. Last September, the new creative director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri, made a not-so-subtle debut by putting plain white tees emblazoned with “We should all be feminists,” the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s long essay and TED Talk, on the runway. And then there are pantsuits. Many a spring collection from Versace to Lanvin to Dolce and Gabbana had pantsuits, which, for some, are the uniform of the modern-day suffragette.
Far away from New York City catwalks, Seattle designer Crystal Anguay Reed is making a similar fashion statement with her line of Revolution clutches. It comes in various colors: milk chocolate, earthy rose, or mermaid green (as seen in our Spring Fashion feature for April: Spring into Action). All are embroidered with a clenched fist, a threaded call back to the black power movement and the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. “I played around with megaphones, the peace sign, all those kinds of things, but this really empowered me,” says Reed, adding that she did “put a little more sassy-ness in it” by including fingernails and knuckle wrinkles.
Weaving her views of the current state of affairs isn’t a stretch for the Seoul-born designer, who came to the Evergreen State and studied Political Science at the University of Washington. Since 2015, she’s worked full time as the development director and now deputy director at The Washington Bus, a political nonprofit that gets young people civically engaged. For over five years, Reed’s managed legislative and senate campaigns, and in some sort of Twilight Zone-like world she also has spare time that she spends on the board of the Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Empowerment.
But at the end of 2016, which Reed openly calls “a giant trash can ball of fire,” the 29-year-old began moonlighting as a designer as a form of self-care: “I needed to do something creative.”
While Reed’s foray into the design world is recent, her style sensibility isn’t newly formed: “In Korean culture there's a lot of fashion involved, no matter who you are, so I grew up with that fashion influence; I grew up with sewing because my mom teaches quilt [making].” She learned embroidery from her mother, took sewing classes at Drygoods Design in Pioneer Square, read design books, and watched tutorials on the world wide web’s virtual school, YouTube. She's currently working towards earning a certificate from the Parsons School of Design.
This iconic symbol of resistance—a revolution fist on a Revolution clutch—holds layers of meaning. One being that, beyond a glittery blue vinyl clutch, fashion can indeed be empowering, making both a political and sartorial statement via t-shirts and pantsuits and, yes, even bags.
“Fashion doesn't always have to just be pretty,” says Reed, “I also want to create something empowering for people to wear.”