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Invitation to Dance? Can The Fashion Industry Be More Inclusive

Efforts are being made by top designers and house to be more diverse but there is a long road ahead.

Ananya Jain, Himanya Chadha, Kshitij Kumbhat & Palak Malhotra

“We need to put diversity behind the desk,” said British model and actress Naomi Campbell at a Wall Street Journal conference last year. Campbell was making a difference between the ideas of “diversity” and “inclusivity” in the fashion industry. The Society for Human Resource Management has described “diversity” as the similarities and differences among individuals accounting for all aspects of their personality and individual identity, such as race, sex, age, disability, and ethnicity. Embracing these differences is defined as “inclusion”. “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance,” says Vernā Myers, an American activist who has worked as an inclusion strategist for Netflix. “It needs to go deeper,” Campbell added in the interview. “We want to see within the actual companies, in the offices, are you going to give diverse staff a seat at the table to advise and be part of the projects that you do?”

Can the contemporary world of fashion be called truly inclusive?

Models of a typical body-type, age, and ethnicity have traditionally been accepted in society and have been appreciated and applauded in advertising campaigns to fashion shows. However, in recent times, the industry has been making efforts to advocate diversity. The fashion industry is gradually becoming more inclusive. Top brands and fashion pioneers are taking a step forward, by setting examples. To show how race is no longer a stereotype in the industry, Italian fashion house Versace included various models such as Egyptian-Moroccan Imaan Hammam, along with established stars like Gigi and Bella Hadid in the past and referred to inclusivity as a key value for its brand vision. Sudanese-Australian model Adut Bior created history by becoming the second-ever model of colour in Chanel’s Fall 2018 show and was “Chanel Bride” of the season.

The industry has always struggled with the issue of body image and has set unrealistic standards of beauty. This notion is being challenged by designers and brands who have started making a stunning collection for women of all sizes, colour and age. Models like Ashley Graham and Robyn Lawley have become pioneers in size inclusivity and becoming the first-ever plus size models to grace the cover of fashion magazines and advocate body positivity and the need to adorn more diverse body shapes and sizes.

Today we have trans models like Stav Strashko who have walked the runway for brands like Marc Jacobs and Coach and broken boundaries across industries. With regards to gender inclusivity, brands like Gucci and Prada are motivating people by bringing gender-fluid concepts and hosting runway shows that mix concepts of gender, having male models wearing pieces from the women’s collection, and vice versa breaking age-old stereotypical concepts. Even though religion has always been a controversial factor when we speak of inclusivity, today we have models like Halima Aden, the first Hijabi Model on the cover of Vogue. She is the first to wear a hijab and burkini in the sports illustrated swimsuit issue and has her own hijab line, Halima X Modanisa.

It’s really commendable to see the participation of older, plus size , transgender and non-binary models as well as those with disabilities finding its way in the fashion industry. We have multi-talented model, actor, dancer and visual artist Luc Bruyere who was born without his left arm and has gone to redefine traditional concepts of beauty while appearing for brands like Kenzo and Nike. Mere diversity May not be the destination but, it's the first step to an inclusive industry.

The fashion industry has developed and progressed a lot in the last few years. But still, fashion had not understood the social responsibility it carries. Luxury brands need to serve their social responsibility towards the audience and customer. For example, the representation of the disabled in the industry has still not reached a point where their disability is considered normal. Disabled models are still rarely seen on runways and on the cover pages of magazines.

The pace of progress is very slow. Even if the fashion industry is reaching heights in terms of diversity, some groups still feel excluded from the fashion industry. An interview conducted by Grazia with different women puts things into perspective. Monique, who was born with the brittle bone disease, told the media network, “The industry needs educating – fast. I don’t want to be defined by my wheelchair and fashion helps people see me first.” Not only this, even if we say plus-size models are recognized today or men wearing dresses is considered iconic and inspirational, the industry is not sincere towards particular groups and communities . Even though fashion brands are consciously changing the kind of images they portray, do we know how sincere these campaigns and covers truly are?

According to a report by Refinery29, when the top positions in the industry belong to white individuals, using black colour as a tool to promote diversity for their brands, is nothing but another shade of racism. Even if they do not realize it, they are not appointing the black community to be in charge of the decision making process, instead they extract profits out of them. This isn’t being sincere towards the groups that were never recognized. Kelly Knox, one of the first disabled models to participate in London Fashion Week, told Grazia, “To me, my missing left arm was always normal. I was born with it and we never used the word ‘disabled’ in my house growing up. It wasn’t until 2008 when I started modelling after winning Britain’s Missing Top Model, a reality show where a disabled woman wins a magazine shoot, that I realized quite how much society viewed my body as ‘different’.

Things are taking time, but fashion has come a long way in the past few years and has made a huge community of people feel less isolated and less excluded. Inclusive fashion is evolving and becoming the future of both runway and retail. Although there have been moves towards inclusivity, much more remains to be done. The fashion industry can truly see a change when they start accepting new faces in the industry, start rethinking the current structure and function of the industry, and focus on being more inclusive.