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Diversity Over Inclusivity In The Fashion Industry

Underneath the new swings of color and print, lies a new progression that the fashion industry is not accustomed to. Diversity. According to a recent study, the percentage of diverse models jumped 9% over last season. Although the industry doesn’t deserve to be praised for doing what should have always been done, it is nothing if not satisfying to see designers moving away from the white, size zero status quo. Amongst the praise and celebration of people from all walks of life, progression cannot stop here.

Everyone knows that the fashion industry struggles with inclusivity. There is a reasoning behind that. It may not be good reasoning, but it exists. Advertisers are taught to create a fantasy around their brand that their consumers will admire. This leads to most brands creating a general standard of beauty that they believed everyone would desire to achieve. Companies wanted their consumers to picture themselves looking as good in the clothes as the models. There are obvious faults to this standing way. The garden variety tall, white, straight, cisgendered, size zero model wasn’t what women saw when they looked in the mirror. This is where millennials and their allies have come in. This generation was given the platform of social media and the ability to advocate for self-acceptance. They have the resources to acknowledge the fact that it is okay if you don’t fit society’s standards. The opportunity to reshape the narrow mold that women were supposed to fit into is arising.

The problem the industry faces now was described in a Business Of Fashion panel. The #BoFVOICES panel consisted of IMG Models President Ivan Bart, biracial model Joan Smalls, and transgender model Hari Nef. Hari Nef has such an amazing way with words, and she really proves that in this panel. The way she describes the increase in inclusivity is by talking about how casting directors have created something like a “diversity day” and how there are many wrongs going on in this situation. “In regard to social justice and identity politics, there has been this subdivision of fashion bookings that has emerged which almost fetishizes diversity…They bring you in and it’s like diversity day and then you go home. Diversity day is cool, it essentially pays my bills…but it never bridges the gap between the hyper-rarefied space of a top booking and just throwing this nominal diversity in so the brand can say they did it.”

This idea of shallow diversity can be appreciated as well as criticized. The idea of fashion including everyone is an idea that can be appreciated no matter what the motives may be, but it is also important for brands to be naturally inclusive. Models should walk into a call and be judged based on their ability and confidence. They shouldn’t be cast because they can prevent the brand from getting criticism.

This issue also brings up the difference between diversity and inclusion which is also talked about by Nef in the panel. Just allowing different types of people to walk in a show or be in a campaign isn’t continual in the sense of how people feel when they watch that show or look at that campaign. Would a woman feel empowered or like a box that was checked off on a to-do list? “Just bringing and including them does not lend itself to building a new interface for fashion that is inclusive in a sustainable way. It does not take into account the people who are being included,” Nef says.

Fashion is one of the most powerful industries in the world and it is slowly becoming an industry that celebrates the world it influences. The industry has a huge sway on what society considers beautiful. There is still a long way to go before designers accept their social responsibility to be diverse. The women of the future deserve to feel empowered and see themselves reflected in an industry that so many people admire.

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Written by Madi Carpenter

A fashionista fueled by coffee.

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