HOW CAN THE FASHION INDUSTRY BECOME MORE INCLUSIVE?
Looking at yourself in the mirror has never been easy, and yet has the fashion industry convinced you that you are beautiful?
Depending on who you are and the way you look, the clothes you wear can make you feel incredibly confident and empowered or very insecure and excluded. It shouldn’t be this way; the industry should be aiming to make everyone feel worthy. We believe a good way to begin addressing inclusivity within the fashion industry comes down to both the selection of models and the design process.
Psychologists speak of fashion as seeking individuality. Fashion is more than just going through life choosing clothes to wear; it's about you who are and, importantly, who you want to become. We have all grown up idealizing skinny, white, clear-skinned blond women reason being that is who we saw on each ramp, in each designers' collection, and every pamphlet to billboards. Modern-day society saw it as a striking problem, the voices of many fighting to be seen and heard reached many fashion companies, and things started to change but slowly. Yet, the meaning of diversity is often lost; it conveys it is entirely about race when it is also about gender identity, differences beyond colour, body types, and culture. While it has become the corporate world's favourite word, it has also become a comprehensive marketing strategy for almost every fashion brand.
Calvin Klein hired their first black model in 2013. But according to Tyra Banks, the Industry has an unwritten rule that there is only one spot for a black model in the supermodel league, there can be 'n' number of white models, but only one black model can reach there. On the one hand, we see and appreciate the change, but we aren't convinced it is close to being enough. We know Victoria Secret has never catered to the transgender community needs and profusely refused to hire transgender models. Such display of blatant inequality in top-tier brands has brought distress in many children and people who don't feel represented in the fashion community. How do we buy clothes without knowing how they would look on our bodies? Also, how are we supposed to feel good about ourselves if there aren’t any models showcasing the clothes who we can identify with? We might feel there is something wrong with us or that these clothes (or any) are not meant for us. As we speak of the change, New York has been holding one of the largest LGBTQ runway shows. These events encourage people to feel comfortable in their identities and wear their truth with pride.
While we discuss inclusivity in fashion, modelling agencies arguably play an essential role and accountability lying in their hands doesn't seem to go unnoticed. Modelling agencies are known to reject people of colour, different sizes, and abilities. These agencies, being the gatekeepers of fashion, have played a massive role in maintaining the lack of fashion diversity. "Winnie Harlow, star of 'America's Next Top Model,' tells the Guardian that every Toronto agency rejected her. Despite lucrative contracts with Diesel and Desigual, she remained unsigned to an agency." There is plenty of bad fish in the sea, and then there are agencies like Lord Inc, a London based co. which only hires non-white models, so not all is bad, but the question is, is this good enough?
While we feel diversity is making its way into the fashion industry with its demand higher than ever before, we also think its growth doesn't satisfy the era we live in. There is a lot more to achieve, but the path has never been more transparent with social media, where every model has found their lost voices. We see these models raising their voices about many issues they face daily. From auditioning to make up rooms hullabaloo, a full picture has been brought under light, thanks to Instagram and other channels! Pipa Christian, a 24-year-old model, writes, "It's shocking to me to walk into a room with a professional, massive team of hairstylists for something as prominent as Fashion Week and have them all look at me like I am an alien from outer space." Stylists not qualified to style afro hair at significant fashion shows only tells us how inclusive the fashion industry is. Such revelations make us realize that for many it comes down to looking diverse and ticking the diversity box more than anything else.
Brands and retailers should also look at inclusivity not only at the level of model selection but also from the beginning stages of product design. Developing collections that are meant to make people from different body shapes, colours and identities feel good with themselves. For decades, fashion houses have stayed away from plus sizes. Some retailers hide their plus-size apparel in remote places of their stores, making the shopping experience unpleasant and even humiliating. More importantly, clothes are often designed with the idea of covering-up the body or certain areas of the body rather than making them vibrant and stylish. We should be embracing the beauty in diversity, not hiding it. This is what will bring empowerment to all groups of people; not simply creating a separate category for them to simply meet the commercial demand for different apparel, but actually creating fashion pieces that will make us all feel incredible.
It is not all discouraging, we have come a long way from the days of white only representation. We see colour. We see differently-abled people running major ad segments. We see different identities bringing colour to the ramp, and somewhere along the line on lucky days, we see ourselves. Diversity is undoubtedly shortly maintaining its seat in the fashion industry and will hopefully become a norm someday.
If you have any comments or suggestions on how we can help drive positive change within the fashion industry leave us a message.
Written by: Ekam Rai