Transgender representation in fashion

The transgender community is one of many that suffers a lack of representation in the fashion industry. The good news is that times are changing. 2019 saw the first casting of openly transgender model, Valentina Sampaio by industry giant, Victoria’s Secret, just one year after British Vogue featured it’s first transgender woman, Paris Lees in their February 2018 edition.

These turning points represent a long-awaited shift in inclusivity of the trans community, but aside from these headline events, how inclusive really is fashion? In honour of LGBTQ+ History Month, Mindless Mag investigates the truth behind the headlines. 

Times are changing

Over the past couple of decades, the fashion industry has undergone a significant change. Runway shows went from an endless trail of overwhelmingly white, size 0 models to a place of increased inclusion. The percentage of non-white models in last year’s fashion week shows was the highest ever, at almost 39%

Gender neutral clothing has been introduced by some of the biggest players in the fashion game, including Louis Vuitton and Gucci. And, according to recent reports, the number of plus size, older, and transgender models being booked for shows are on the rise globally.

Progress is being made, fashion is becoming more and more of an accurate representation of the diverse society we live in. Let’s take a closer look at transgender fashion.

Transgender representation is on the rise

Sarah Kent at The Business of Fashion reports that, “after years of complacency, the fashion industry is facing a perfect storm of political consciousness, consumer activism and social-media penetration that is putting intense pressure on brands to show they are stepping up efforts to operate more inclusively than they ever have before.”

Transgender people were the least represented group in fashion in 2017, with a mere 12 appearances by trans models in fashion week shows, slow but significant changes are so important. 

One of the world’s leading modelling agencies, IMG Models Worldwide signed Chella Man in 2019, making her the first deaf transgender model ever signed at the agency, which boasts a following of over 1.7 M on Instagram. 

The inclusion of trans talent in runway shows and advertising by some of the biggest fashion houses in the industry, including Marc Jacobs and Gucci is on the rise. Exposure in publications such as Vogue and The New York Times also suggest that the representation of the transgender community is increasing. 

Brands set ‘trans quotas’

Concerns are being raised that some brands are seeing gender inclusivity as a way of increasing sales and exposure. Take the previously mentioned signing of trans model, Valentina Sampaio as an example. Though Victoria’s Secret happily accepted the praise and media coverage of their involvement with the transgender community, the company still has never cast a transgender model for the fashion show or even for their ad campaigns.

The motives behind fashion brands in their inclusion of transgender people are unfortunately not always genuine and in some cases the representation of trans models are used to fill a ‘trans quota’.  

Model and social activist, Munroe Bergdorf is no stranger to the issues faced by transgender individuals working to be genuinely valued by the industry. Following the cancellation of being the first trans woman to lead a UK campaign for L’Oréal Paris, Bergdorf shared, “My experience with L’Oréal in 2017 taught me to be more mindful of the companies I become involved with. It was a diversity campaign that used my appearance but didn’t allow me my voice.”

Plus-size trans model, Fatima Jamal agrees “I’m not at all pleased by trans or fat models being used as diversity and inclusion metrics and business goals for brands to fair along in today’s society.”

Though any progress is good progress, the focus is often limited to the inclusion of transgender models only. Munroe Bergdorf adds, “it’s important that your team is as diverse as the people you’re putting in front of the camera.” The challenge is to increase the opportunities for members of the trans community in all areas of the fashion industry; trans designers, creatives, photographers and of course, models.

The future of transgender fashion

Fortunately, recent years have seen the rise in socially engaged brands. New York based label Chromat, centered around inclusivity of all ages, gender identities, ethnicities, sizes, and abilities, celebrated its 10thanniversary in 2019. The brand, founded by Becca McCharen-Tran, prides itself on being a platform for sharing the message of acceptance of everyone, and recently signed Devin-Norelle , a writer and trans advocate who identifies as non-binary, to walk in the NYFW show.

Last year, Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show also made headlines- and for good reason, with the inclusion of trans actress and LGBTQ+ advocate Laverne Cox, amongst a diverse group of individuals celebrating age, gender identies, race, shape in an effortless manner. 

Commenting on the importance of trans representation, model, actress, and TV personality Carmen Carrera believes: 

It’s important to have transgender representation because we represent the forthcoming generation, and their new perception on the standard of beauty – which I believe is being true to yourself, loving yourself and others.It’s also about being more aware, socially, and shedding a light on all marginalised groups. It’s beyond the surface beauty.

Carmen Carrera

The fashion industry has a long, long way to go in achieving an industry that is representative of the diverse world we live in, but following in the footsteps of these brands is surely a step in the right direction. 

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