In the middle of Broad Street, designer Nasheli Juliana Ortiz-González and models marched holding posters advocating reproductive rights.
Against the backdrop of Philadelphia’s Independence Day festivities, this weekend took a twist as Friday’s Supreme Court ruling overruled Roe vs. Wade protests quickly materialized from City Hall to Independence Mall. Fashion designer Nasheli Juliana Ortiz-González, who was part of the runway part of Wawa Welcome America’s Avenue of the Arts block party on Broad Street, had a particularly high-profile platform following this juxtaposition – and she didn’t not let the moment pass her by.
Rather than just showing off her designs, Ortiz-González and the models marched holding posters protesting the SCOTUS ruling and advocating for reproductive rights.
But the blending of couture and civil rights was nothing new for Ortiz-González.
The designer behind the Nasheli Juliana brand and new executive director of Taller Puertorriqueño has always positioned her work at the intersection of fashion and social justice. The Puerto Rican native began studying fashion at age 13, eventually earning a master’s degree, creating her own line and teaching at Moore College. “Throughout history, fashion has been used in different movements to reinforce and create a neutral outlook,” says Ortiz-González, citing as a particularly relevant example the green scarf that has come to represent the movement for the right to abortion in South America. “Clothing can create that movement, that power, that energy.”
Nasheli Juliana’s past collections have explored Ortiz-González’s heritage and exposed human rights issues. In 2018, she created prints that, at first glance, look like beautiful kaleidoscopic patterns, but when viewed through 3D glasses, they reveal photographs illustrating “the eight atrocities committed by the United States against Puerto Rico. says Ortiz-González. She compared the collection to Puerto Rico itself – on the surface a place of beautiful beaches, arts and people, against the backdrop of pain and injustice. “This is America. We have a lot of injustices happening, but the beauty is that we can talk about it.
In describing her mission, she says, “I think I’m taking a space of privilege. Fashion has always been linked to a very particular socio-economic context. It’s important that those viewers who have the economic power to acquire fashion understand what’s behind their clothes…behind the action of attending a fashion show just to see clothes. So, I love being that disruptive voice.
This disruptive voice took center stage over the past weekend. As part of the Welcome America festivities, the block party in and around the Kimmel Center included free concerts, kids’ crafts, a zipline, food trucks, and an “Art Meets Fashion” element, in which designers from Philly Fashion Week were shown on a catwalk in the middle of Broad Street.
The lineup – which also included local designers like These Pink Lips, URBANE and Prajjé Oscar – was long established, but the SCOTUS decision and subsequent protests deeply affected Ortiz-González, who attended Friday’s protest at City Hall.
Ortiz-González decided to incorporate the symbolic green sashes into her show and end it with her carrying a protest sign. Then, she returned to the solo poster: “I remove the voice of the models”, she says. Instead, she handed out poster boards and markers to all the models before the show, asking them each to make a statement they were passionate about. “It was just about giving voice to the women in my show,” says Ortiz-González, which is especially remarkable in an industry that often uses women’s bodies as canvases.
“Assault rifles get more rights than my WAP,” one sign read. Another model said, “I’m a woman, not a womb.
“It was beautiful backstage,” Ortiz-González recalled of the experience after the show. She describes how many of the audience members were girls and their mothers. “It was a lot of young people saying ‘thank you’.”