Sunday Times - - ON THE COVER -

OMETIMES a T-shirt is just a T-shirt, but there are other times when that T-shirt is mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal or so­cial state­ment on be­half of (and some­times along with) its wearer. Some­times, it’s not just fashion — it is ide­ol­ogy made chic.

Asian-Amer­i­can ac­tress Michele Se­lene Ang caused a stir re­cently when she up­loaded onto In­sta­gram a pic­ture of her­self star­ing into the cam­era, sat on a dress­ing-room ta­ble, dressed in all black. What was the fuss about? The ac­tress’s sim­ple black T-shirt, which had these words on it in white: Scar­lett & Emma & Tilda & Matt.

Those who keep up with Hol­ly­wood are fa­mil­iar with the names (Scar­lett Jo­hans­son, Emma Stone, Tilda Swin­ton and Matt Da­mon). Those who keep up with so­ciopo­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions around pop cul­ture know what those names have in com­mon: they be­long to white ac­tors who have par­tic­i­pated in Hol­ly­wood’s white­wash­ing of Asian char­ac­ters and sto­ries.

Da­mon saved China in the flop The Great Wall; Jo­hans­son played the widely-ac­cepted-as-Ja­panese Ma­jor in an­other ex­pen­sive flop, Ghost in the Shell; Swin­ton was an­other orig­i­nally Asian char­ac­ter, The An­cient One, in Doc­tor Strange; and Stone straight up played a quar­ter-Chi­nese char­ac­ter, Al­li­son Ng, in the widely panned Cameron Crowe come­back that wasn’t, Aloha.

So while Ang was wear­ing just a T-shirt, that T-shirt had a lot to say.

The Cape Town-based cloth­ing la­bel C(lit) — as in clit, the cli­toris, the fe­male or­gan of sex­ual plea­sure — is also do­ing ex­actly that. Started by stu­dents Sarah Zim­mer­mann and Ceil Reyneke, the la­bel com­prises hats and Tshirts with fem­i­nist, sex-pos­i­tive slo­gans and mes­sages printed on them.

C(lit), say Zim­mer­mann and Reyneke, was “born out of a de­sire to cre­ate wear­able so­cial com­men­tary, some­thing that we found was lack­ing [lo­cally]”.

“Cloth­ing can be­come such a pow­er­ful tool for self-ex­pres­sion, and if that ex­pres­sion can com­mu­ni­cate or make so­cial state­ments, it tran­scends nor­mal ‘dress’ and be­comes a way to ex­press iden­tity. Fuck cat-call­ing. Fuck sex­ual sup­pres­sion. Fuck misog­yny.” Fuck it all in­deed. “We are in­flu­enced . . . by our so­cial en­vi­ron­ments, and our brand is man­i­fested as a re­sponse to is­sues of misog­yny, con­sent, sex­ual em­pow­er­ment and our iden­ti­ties as a mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion . . . The texts we place

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