Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords that are circulating lately in the fashion industry scene. In fact, the terms have been overused by brands and companies eager to show their support in these modern movements. Consumers nowadays are ready to call out and cancel brands that fail to show diversity and inclusion within their branding.
Victoria Secret is one of those popular brands that have fallen behind in the movement. VS cancelled their annual runway show after their marketing Chief Ed Rezak told Vogue in an interview that he did not think that transgendered models had a place in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and claimed further that there was no TV interest for plus-size runway shows. Other ‘woke’ brands like Savage X Fenty strive to have runway shows and campaigns that cater to all different shapes, sizes, gender identities, races, and religions. The important question looms before us, nonetheless: do most brands in the fashion industry take steps to be more progressive in implementing inclusivity and diversity in the long-term, or do they hide behind short-term campaigns and buzzwords to stay relevant?
Why are diversity and inclusion important in the fashion industry?
Fashion is one of the biggest industries in the world that capitalises on creativity and self-expression. Fashion isn’t all about textiles and garments; it’s an industry that prides itself in selling self-esteem and self-identity. Without diversity and inclusion, fashion cannot truly appeal as an art form. The industry has a long-standing reputation of discriminating against race, size, gender, and religion, often depicting the ‘perfect model’ as tall, fair, and slender. Due to this old way of thinking, the industry needs reformation in terms of inclusivity and diversity. But to ensure accountability, there must be clarity in what those two words mean for the industry. The words “inclusion” and “diversity” are often used interchangeably without a clear definition. We must understand and focus on the definition of each word.
Diversity in the Fashion Industry
Diversity is the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders or even religions. Diversity in the fashion scene can easily be just for show and gimmicks. For example, on catwalks and in campaigns, it has become increasingly in the norm to see a diverse range of models. Since promoting a healthy body image has become popular in fashion media, designers began to hire plus-size models to walk the runway among their lineup of size 0-2 models. This flaunting of diversity has also become a fad when it comes to hiring black models. High fashion brands that include a diverse lineup of models often get a plethora of media coverage. However, the diversity behind the camera is different.
When discussing diversity, we have to dig deeper than runway shows and campaigns. To consider a brand diverse, we must ask these questions. How many people of colour are included in the creative direction? Is there a make-up artist on set that has experience with all skin tones, or a hairstylist that can work with afro hair, braids, and protective styles? Does the photographer understand the lighting needed to capture an array of skin tones properly? Although diversity is showing up at the forefront of the fashion industry, we think that it still lacks behind the scenes. According to the Fashion Minority Report in 2019, only 11 percent of jobs in the UK fashion industry are held by black and minority professionals. Unfortunately, it's alarming that brands still neglect to hire a diverse range of professionals.
Inclusion in the Fashion Industry
Inclusion is a climate in which diverse individuals come together to form a collective whole, enabling and empowering individuals to make contributions consistent with their beliefs and backgrounds. Diversity of abilities, cultural backgrounds, gender, race or ethnicity positively correlates with increased productivity and innovation. Many brands might hire people of different races and feature them on the catwalk or in campaigns; however, that is just one aspect of diversity. Inclusion is not just about how much diversity you have, but having an influential voice in the company and fashion industry overall. Again, we need to dive deep into inclusion and ask further questions. Do every single one of those models feel safe, appreciated, and happy? Do they feel comfortable? Are they paid the same as their younger counterparts, who are white models? Will the models work with the brand again? In 2019, The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) gathered top industry executives at a half-day conference to talk through the issues the fashion industry is facing. They concluded that an inclusive work environment would enable individuals to comfortably express who they are, without downplaying their differences. Their voices are heard and recognised, and ultimately, this culture of inclusion “empowers diverse individuals to make their best contributions and do their best work”. Diversity is not enough on its own, but we must include diversity and inclusion hand in hand to have an effective industry that truly promotes creativity and self-expression.
Diversity vs. Inclusion
Looking from the outside, some consumers may think that diversity is enough, but it’s not. We must hold the fashion world accountable to have diversity at the forefront, as well as an inclusive working environment for all industry professionals behind the scenes. A seat at the table for the minority group isn’t enough—their voices need to be heard.
There has been an increase in diversity in the past couple of years. In The Fashion Spot’s annual survey, they found out that 34.50% were people of colour out of the 529 models featured in Spring 2019 fashion campaigns. In the Spring/Summer 2020 New York Fashion Week, 47% of models walking the runway were POC. This is more than double the number of POC participants when The Fashion Spot started the survey in 2015. But these findings still lack diversity when it comes to plus-sized models. Despite that, fashion campaigns seem to be moving in the right direction when it comes to diversity; however, there is still slow progress when it comes to inclusion. In an article featured by The Cut, ‘What It’s Really Like To Be Black And Work In Fashion’, the author noted that “there have never been more than one or two black editors-in-chief of any major U.S. magazines, and only one black designer leading a major American fashion brand”. Moreover, in August 2018, ”no black photographer had ever shot the cover of Vogue”. The author also noted that “only 15 of the 495 CFDA members are black, and only ten black designers have ever won a CFDA or CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award.”
When it comes to the marriage of diversity and inclusion, we believe that the fashion world must take a stand to be more progressive. Having the token POC models isn’t enough anymore. As consumers, we must hold these brands accountable to make the changes needed.
In the briefing Inclusion & Diversity in the American Fashion Industry, CFDA has committed to holding themselves and others in the fashion industry accountable to both realise that change is necessary and that there are actionable steps to effect that change. They realised that there is an urgent need to address inclusion and diversity in the current state fashion and they need to do better at embracing differences and change. Along with CFDA, consumers have the power to bring about change. We cannot be satisfied with flashy campaigns. We need to research brands and what they stand for before investing our money and support. But we can’t stop there—we also need to support POC brands and POC designers.
Real change happens when we look past the surface of these brands and demand the fashion industry to show consumers what diversity and inclusion really means.
About the Author
MONIQUE L. SPEARMAN is a freelance multi-faceted writer, curator and creator. Blending a passion for content creating, social media marketing, photography and travel, Monique created her blog website Moniquespearman.com in the spring of 2017 as a hobby. Moniquespearman.com is a lifestyle, fashion, beauty and travel brand that encourages men and women from around the world to live their best lives out loud. Inspired by the aesthetics of different cultures, Monique wants to show the world: "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it!"