At the start of New York Fashion Week, the most talked-about event wasn’t the unveiling of a new collection: It was a Hillary Clinton fundraiser.
Top American designers including Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenberg, and Joseph Altuzarra had come out to show their support for the presidential nominee. Many of them had already created T-shirts for Hillary Clinton’s Made for History series that were for sale on her campaign website. But it was Prabal Gurung, a 37-year-old Nepalese designer, who had created the most popular design on the site. It had sold out within days.
Gurung launched his brand in 2009. Since then, he’s made a name for himself designing clothes favored by some of the world’s most powerful women. Queen Rania of Jordan recently wore one of his suits to a United Nations Summit. He’s dressed Oprah Winfrey for red carpet events, Michelle Obama for state dinners, and Amal Clooney for important court battles.
And as he explains in this exclusive Fast Company interview, Hillary Clinton embodies the kind of woman he is designing for. He’s become a passionate and vocal advocate of hers in the fashion community. After many years in the U.S., Gurung recently became a U.S. citizen, and he explains that the 2016 election is the first time he will be able to vote for a president, so he is taking the responsibility seriously. Here, he explains why he’s with her.
You describe yourself as a feminist. What do you mean by that?
I call myself a feminist simply because I believe that women are the biggest path to freedom for any kind of equality in the world. They represent the freedom to choose your destiny. There are many parts of the world where women don’t have that right: Their lives are chosen for them. So it almost does not matter to me whether a woman is a CEO or a stay-at-home mom, as long as what they’re doing is living out their principles. I come from a family where a single mother raised us, and she wanted to break her own glass ceilings. She always fought for equality. So I understand the struggle.
Tell us about how you first met Hillary Clinton.
I met her a while back at Diane von Furstenburg’s book signing party [in 2014]. Hillary was there, walking around. I introduced myself and she said she knew me because her daughter wears my stuff. I was blown away. I took that moment to say to her, “We’re waiting for you to run.”
That whole experience made my day. When I left Nepal and came to New York knowing no one, I came to pursue my passion for design. I had all these big dreams, perhaps what people might even call impossible dreams. Politics is something I’ve always been interested in as well, but I never thought I would be part of the political process. It was an amazing moment for me. But dressing the First Lady or making T-shirts for Hillary Clinton: These are things you can’t plan.
How did you decide to create a T-shirt for her campaign?
Cut to a few months later and she was running for president. I wanted to do something. I had been in touch with her team and they asked me to contribute to the Made for History T-shirt collection. It was an honor. What I realized was that as a fashion designer, I had an audience and followers, and I wanted to make sure that I was using this platform for something good that is bigger than me.
Why do you support her candidacy?
I came to the United States from Nepal as a student, then I got a work visa. Eventually I got my green card and a year and a half ago, I became a citizen. That was an emotional moment. It’s hard to explain it to someone who has not been through it. It’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight; I had to commit to becoming a U.S. citizen.
This is the first time that I am able to vote. The fact is that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to run for the presidency—she’s more qualified than our current president and previous presidents.
People always say, “I wish she would smile more,” or “I wish she was charming.” I don’t wish any of that. I want my president to do her job well. I’m absolutely charmed by her achievements and qualifications; that’s enough for me. The president has an enormous responsibility not just for America, but for the fate of the world. I don’t need soundbites; I need an able leader.
The second thing is that the fact that she happens to be a woman, which is not the most important thing for me. Clinton becoming president—we [in the U.S.] take it for granted. Around the world, especially in places where women’s rights are constantly compromised and challenged, it is such a big message. I’ve dealt with women in my own family who have said things like, “A country like America has never had a woman president. What kind of changes can we hope to achieve?”
I have a foundation in Nepal that educates underprivileged girls. I am able to go back to this foundation and tell these girls, “You too can become this. No longer is your identity based on who you marry.”
Unfortunately, the situation is that her opponent happens to be someone who is against what my reality is. I am a minority. I am an immigrant. He is against everything that I stand for. He’s against everything that I am. Electing him would send the message that we, as a society, are okay with the world shifting in that direction. I decided that if I want change, I need to be a change agent. I need to go and vote. I need to be able to talk about it.
Are you using your platform to encourage your audience to vote for her?
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to force anyone to change their beliefs. I have a wide range of clients, some who believe in her and some who don’t. I want to engage in a healthy conversation and a dialogue. All I can say is here are the reasons—as a person, as a designer, as an immigrant, and as a new citizen—that I believe in her. And these are the reasons I don’t believe in him. But it is totally up to you to make your own decision.
You have really compelling reasons to support Hillary Clinton. Why do you think your peers in the fashion industry have been equally vocal about supporting her as well?
It’s simple. A lot of us believe she is the most qualified one in the race. But also her beliefs and her values resonate with us.
In the fashion community, we are filled with minorities, whether it’s a matter of race, sexual orientation, or gender. We understand what it means when someone is threatening or questioning our existence. We are very aware of it.