Fashion + Diversity

The Fashion Industry & Diversity: What’s the Deal?

In the past, fashion was centered around painfully thin models. Brands looked for the same body shapes with almost no diversity shown. The fit models that we saw online appeared to follow that same criteria. The industry showed no representation of the average body shape and it was hard to relate to for many women.

We were once surrounded by a manipulated portrayal of beauty. Women were encouraged to believe that there was only one perception of the perfect body shape. The body shape that flooded adverts, campaigns and runways was a far cry from the that of the average female. The industry had almost prevented us from accepting ourselves. Women would compare themselves to unrealistic images and it is a shame that this continues to be the case for many.

However, fortunately in recent years, the industry has changed significantly. We have gradually seen an increase in diversity. We once saw individuals who challenged social expectations of normality, being ignored and often rejected by the industry. Yet, we are finally seeing a celebration of these individuals and an embrace of models who represent a broader audience.

This is a refreshing and necessary change. Consumers should feel represented and comfortable shopping for their own body shape. No one should feel shamed whilst shopping online by the images of models. The fashion industry is one of many to have been highlighted for its disregard for diversity and we need to see more industries making these changes. The industry is made for all, it claims to cater for all and therefore, it should represent everyone.

What do these changes mean for the fashion industry?

These changes have enabled the industry to expand through its acknowledgement of race, gender and disability, and by including a range of body sizes. The fashion industry realised its need to change. The younger generations of society have adopted a more accepting view and are active in challenging those who oppose that. It has been the subject of many criticisms and there came a time where this had to change.

Many brands recognise that in order to stay relevant, they must adhere to the expectations of society. At the forefront of this is incorporating diversity into their brand. It is highly likely that without societal pressures, most brands wouldn’t have made these changes. The history of many high-end brands clearly shows their reluctance to move forward. It has become obvious that for the majority of existing brands in the industry, the drive for change is through their fear of being rejected. This comes as an ironic thought as it is something that those brands have done to models for a number of years.

What changes have been made?

In 2014, Winnie Harlow made a huge impact on the fashion industry and has continued to do so. The model is a true celebration of diversity and is a spokesperson for the skin condition she has, vitiligo. Winnie’s success is an example of how it has changed and now represents a more diverse audience. So many models have begun to stand up and challenge the industry. Models are seen to be human beings, with personalities and beliefs, rather than simply women who walk the runway.

In recent years we have also seen transgender models take the industry by storm. A huge turning point was when Caitlyn Jenner landed the cover of Vanity Fair in 2015. Since then, the industry has become more progressive and most brands have embraced this. However, the same can’t be said for all. Victoria’s Secret was one brand that vocalised their reluctance to include transgender models. Then later, in 2018, they apologised for this and have since hired a transgender model to represent their brand.

Having worked in healthcare, one of the most noticeable changes in the industry for me, was through the inclusion of models deemed to have a disability. A number of campaigns have celebrated models with a range of disabilities. In 2018, Teen Vogue released a feature focusing on what it is like to be a disabled model in the fashion industry. Despite some changes being made, it still lacks representation of disabled models. This is something that needs to change moving forward.

Why is it so important to represent diversity?

The fashion industry appears to have recognised that in order to stay relevant, it is important to represent all members of society. By choosing to adopt a one size fits all attitude and ignore the majority of its consumers, leads to outrage. It is great that we are finally seeing these changes, yet it is a shame that the reason for this was the result of years of pain and suffering for a large number of models. Without those who did speaking out and campaign for change, none of this would be the case. In the future, we can only hope that drastic measures won’t need to be taken in order for people to be accepted.

Is this change the result of genuine want to be better?

The same cannot be said for all however, many brands have almost been forced to make changes. The reluctance to embrace diversity is met with despair and many brands are worried about the impact this negativity will have. A number of brands have considered the inclusion of a more diverse representation to be a strategic business decision. If a brand is thought to have done so without being pushed to, they’re liked because they’re deemed to be more accepting. Many brands have witnessed the success that this has had. Therefore, more often than not, brands follow what is popular and what is well received. The movement to include diversity is something that is so highly sought after that brands gain popularity because of it.

Therefore, like any business decision, it is highly likely that a brand’s move to include diverse models is to ensure that it stays relevant. Over the years we have publicly seen brands torn apart in the media because of their reluctance to become more progressive and as a result, so many have lost consumer loyalty. A brand’s goal is to ensure that they deliver what their consumers want and it is no doubt that consumers have been desperate for this change.

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