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RAPP Students Learn How to Use Fashion to Protest Sexual Violence

Twenty years ago, an Italian Supreme Court judge overturned a rape conviction of a teenage girl. He insisted that because the assaulted girl was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped her assailant remove them, thereby implying consent. Since then, people around the world wear denim on “Denim Day” in solidarity with survivors and as a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.

This year, Denim Day is April 24, and students in our Relationship Abuse Prevention Program (RAPP) at the High School of Fashion Industries are participating in a “Fashion Impact Project”—a unique design mentoring and youth advocacy project—that involves couture fashion, celebrities, and activists. 

RAPP partnered with Beauty For Freedom, an anti-human trafficking organization, and Celestino Couture, design house creators of tailor-made evening gowns, to develop this project, which culminates in the creation of extraordinary denim gowns and a cape. The Rialto Jean Project donated the denim, which was hand painted by at-risk youth in Ghana through a Beauty for Freedom program called Challenging Heights.

Sergio Guadarrama and Kade Johnson (owner and Creative Director of Celestino Couture) have served as mentors to the students, meeting with them weekly and involving them in the design process. Other designers and activists have joined the sessions to share their experience with students. Students have also heard powerful stories from survivors about their experiences of abuse and survival. 

Students say they are proud to work on a design project that conveys such important messages. “What you wear expresses a message of who you are, so using that ability through fashion to send such essential messages is so important,” said one teen.

Celebrities and activists have been photographed wearing the denim collection and include model and actor Indya Moore, who has used her platform on the hit FX show Pose to advocate for transgender rights, as well as film and TV actor Zazie Beetz, who, in addition to being an activist, currently appears on FX’s Atlanta and in the blockbuster Deadpool 2. Additional influencers include Wade Davis, a former NFL player and prominent advocate for LGBTQ and women’s rights; Khrystyana, who was involved in the Body Positive Movement before competing on America’s Next Top Model; Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who co-chairs the Women’s Caucus for the New York City Council; and Gina Cavello, a survivor consultant for the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. See photos here and a video from Indya Moore here.

RAPP is a program of Rising Ground’s STEPS to End Family Violence program, which has provided trauma-informed services since 1986 for all survivors of gender-based violence. STEPS focuses on gender-based violence prevention, intervention, and policy advocacy. “As a longstanding member of Denim Day NYC, STEPS is honored to partner with numerous organizations on creative advocacy programming for students, survivors and advocates,” said Connie Márquez, Director of Teen Services and Strategic Partnerships at STEPS.

Márquez continued, “What an extraordinary honor for our student activists to work on this multi-layered Fashion Impact Project to help create something beautifully symbolic that elevates the voices of many. We are thrilled to partner with community members—Beauty for Freedom, Celestino Couture, and the Rialto Jean Project—to promote our shared values of equality, safety and respect!”

Márquez urges everyone to wear denim on Denim Day and tag @DenimDayNYC on social media. She encourages all who can to participate in the many events scheduled during the month of April in honor of National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month, and to join RAPP students at the large New York City Denim Day rally on April 24 at Foley Square from noon-1 PM.

To learn about the Relationship Abuse Prevention Program, part of Rising Ground’s STEPS to End Family Violence Program, click here.