8 December 2020

By Jordy Benooit

If you browse through any clothing store you’ll see the UK’s Union Jack or the American stars and stripes. Wearing our nation’s colours gives us a somewhat sense of pride, of who we are, what we are, and what we stand for. However, for most of us in Europe, those colours aren’t ours. Is it that we have nothing to be proud of, as Europeans? Senne Dehandschutter, a film director from Antwerp Belgium, thought differently and decided to prove it. In 2017, he founded a clothing brand with the sole purpose of promoting Europeanness, and called it ‘European By Choice’.

With the rise of populism across the continent the European project is under threat. But it has been under threat since the 50’s, when Robert Schuman called for a united Europe to repair the rubble of WWII. He predicted that Europe would not be created overnight nor that it would be built without hard work. Europe would be built on acts of solidarity. Today these acts take the form of a European Recovery Fund, or pandemic assistance cooperation such as Albanian nurses filling the Italian ranks in the fight against Covid-19. Tackling a global pandemic, together and united in solidarity. Why wouldn’t we be proud of that ideal? Why not put that on a t-shirt?

With that mindset, Senne and his team started a crowd-funding project in 2017, asking Europeans to help him spread the message of European unity. With their help, he would create a clothing line that incorporated the symbol of the EU flag, so that people could wear and express their Europeanness. The people responded by the thousands, raising four times the funding’s goal, and the team fulfilled their pledge. They made ‘Princess Europa’ their official emblem, the Greek mythological princess to whom Europe thanks for her name, and portrayed her as a free modern woman leaping forward, inspiring Europe to gracefully embrace a future of solidarity and unity.

The first clothing line, which has recently sold out, consisted of a variety of everyday clothing articles like sweaters, polo shirts, t-shirts, caps, and scarfs among others. All containing the European flag, in either a subtle or bold way. With their second clothing line, they plan on going even further and spread the message wider. It will be entirely made in Europe, from organic cotton sustainably manufactured abroad. Giving cotton farmers fair prices for their products and giving Europeans jobs. They also promise to give 10% of their profits to projects that promote connections amongst Europeans, focusing on youth organizations, street artists, journalists, and exchange programmes, among others. In doing so, they aim to show people what we can do if we choose to show solidarity with each other. If we chose to be European.

So why is it so important to have a t-shirt with the European flag on it? It is, in my opinion, the next step in claiming Europe and making it more democratic. Since its creation by the Council of Europe, there has been a push to use the flag as the official symbol of other European organisations. The European Parliament, the representing body of the people, took the lead adopting the flag in 1983 and pushing its use by the other institutions throughout the 80’s. Today the European flag is inseparable from the European Union, and by claiming the flag we can claim the Union. Not in a sense of claiming power over it, but accepting, appreciating and nurturing it. In doing so we, Europeans, can shape Europe to become the idea of what it can be.

One might ask himself “do we really need a flag to work together in solidarity?”. My answer is, yes. Looking back on Schuman’s words, the idea of Europe is something that has “to be built through acts of solidarity”. To build the idea, we have to unite its citizens. For us Europeans to unite, we need a common symbol. Something to rally behind. An identity. For us Europeans such a symbol exists, we just have to claim it.
In this endeavor, one way is through fashion. I invite you to check out the second ‘European By Choice’ line, available in their online shop: https://europeanbychoice.com/