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Diversity In Fashion: Let’s Talk About It

When you think about fashion, undoubtedly one of the first images that you will conjure up is that of the fashion elite: the tall, white, skinny women that dominate the runways and grace the glossy covers of magazines, sans imperfection. Or should that be dominatED, as fashion evolves with our ever-more inclusive society? As diversity in the industry begins to catch up with diversity in life, could it be that this perception of fashion could become a thing of the past? Or, perhaps I was right first time.

LRFS19 BTS Shoot
We’re looking at you, fashion biz (Photo by @mydoormatt)

As our friends at Leeds Her Campus have already pointed out, fashion is changing, and we at LRFS are proud to be a part of that change at a grassroots level. After all, if we want the industry to diversify, it has to come from the bottom up. The fashion industry will only provide for a more diverse market if they know that the market is there – why else would they pull focus from an already lucrative, fashion-buying audience if not to tap into the wallets of a different fashion-buying audience?

Diversity Heroes

Jameela Jamil

Jameela Jamil
Photo courtesy of Stylist online

One woman who is using her platform at the very top to create change in the fashion industry, and the wider media in general, is the fabulous Jameela Jamil. Her Instagram account @i_weigh (at 248k followers at time of writing) promotes celebrating the worth of women beyond their number on the scales, whilst her general outspokenness is causing controversy worldwide. Saying that she wants “to put airbrushing in the bin” in her Viewpoint for the BBC wouldn’t seem so radical if it wasn’t one of the crutches of the fashion industry in the 21st century. But, the reality is, airbrushing is the primary bastion of selling unattainable perfection to impressionable consumers, usually young girls. Airbrushing doesn’t just convince us that the Kardashians are perennially blemish-free, but it promotes damaging ideas of colourism, and skinny/cellulite free bodies being the only acceptable form of beauty.

Condé Nast

Them Conde Nast diversity
Photo courtesy of Conde Nast

It’s easy to be cynical about Condé Nast launching Them (a queer publication) and consider it as just a shrewd business move, seizing this moment of greater LGBT+ visibility in order to cash in. However, for a publishing house as large as Condé Nast to recognise the LGBT+ community as a gap in the market, and provide a publication that is entirely their own, is a big step towards greater inclusivity in the fashion industry. Only a very small percentage of the models represented in Spring/Summer 2018 campaigns identified as trans, making them still one of the most underrepresented minorities in fashion. Whilst this looks to be changing with the launch of publications like Them, as well as big-name fashion & lifestyle blogs like Man Repeller creating trans-inclusive fashion pieces and magazines like ELLE publishing the writing of journalist and trans activist Rhyannon Styles, there seems to still be a very long way to go before LGBT+ inclusivity becomes a part of the fashion narrative (see: Victoria’s Secret), rather than a gimmick.

Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger diversity campaign
Photo courtesy of Teen Vogue

Tommy Hilfiger is one of the most recent and most high-profile brands to have created their own ‘accessible’ clothing line, designed and developed specifically for people with disabilities, featuring magnetic closures, velcro fastenings, one-handed zips and adjustable hems. This is a big moment for accessibility in fashion, as it’s only now that we are seeing for the first time these sort of garments brought into the mainstream, with ASOS and M&S also deserving of some praise for bringing this sort of inclusivity onto the high street. River Island also launched their A/W 18 campaign with a view to defeating stereotypes, including models of all genders, ethnicities, abilities, and sizes, to create the image of a fashion retailer who is taking a revolutionary approach to fashion marketing.

Is All This Enough?

All of these attempts at diversifying the fashion industry are massive steps in the right direction: to get major celebrities, international publishing houses and globally-recognised fashion labels striving to innovate change is a win for many activists, and can only lead to more progress in the future. However, the fact that these concepts are seen as ‘revolutionary’ or ‘breaking the mould’ or even ‘controversial’ shows how deeply entrenched the ‘norm’ is in our subconscious when it comes to how we consume fashion.

The fashion industry has long been a breaker of taboos, starter of metaphorical fires and conduit of political change (see: Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Katharine Hamnett), but it may just be that it’s one of the slowest industries to adapt to our evolving society. However, the glitterati is now no longer just skinny white New Yorkers: it’s plus-size journalists, trans freelance bloggers, black lawyers and business owners with disabilities.

The market is changing, and LRFS are making sure Leeds gets in on the party. The rest of the world better catch up.

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