The fashion industry is no longer primarily centred around the production of clothing and jewellery design. It has become an establishment that feeds directly into the culture of our time, that has an undeniable power and influence. Trends and popularity stem from the catwalks, and the public’s desire to stay-on-trend has overwhelmed the market. Thus, the catwalks are a great platform for change. But issues of diversity and inclusivity are still overwhelmingly prevalent.
Recently, fashion houses have been interacting more and more with the political turbulence of our time. Topical points of interest such as immigration, presidential voting, the objectification of women, racial prejudice, and cultural appropriation have made their way onto the runway.
Only recently, Di$count Universe showcased a collection that featured iconographic typography that explored the commodification of the female body. The designs had “Not For Sale” written on them, amongst other slogans such as “Not Your Baby” and “I Am Not Sorry”.
Are political messages being commercialised as a trend?
Being ‘politically correct’ has become a central trend in the fashion industry. It is rumoured that the top echelons of design houses have put diversity and inclusivity to the forefront of their collections because of its popularity. After all, diversity sells.
As Henry Navarro Delgado so aptly pointed out: ”The fashion industry has a solid record of co-opting political and countercultural movements, marginalised groups and non-Western cultures, then making a good profit out of it”. Trends are transitory and often short-lived. Diversity and inclusivity should not be categorised or monetised in this way.
Race isn’t about popularity. It isn’t about what’s trending. Just because there is an influx of racially and ethnically diverse models walking the runways now, doesn't mean that there will be in a years time. It’s our job as consumers to keep fighting for real and significant change. This change has started to come about, and it has been particularly visible when designers have received backlash for insensitive and racially provocative designs.
But the question remains... why does it take bad press for fashion houses to alter their collections? Shouldn't they consider these issues in the first place? It is no longer justifiable for controversial designs to be haphazardly covered up with newer “inclusive” ads, all in the hope of pushing back the bad press further down our newsfeeds. Gucci, H&M and Katy Perry’s previous designs are just two examples of many that have been deemed insensitive for promoting blackface.
The misrepresentation of people of colour.
If the fashion industry is to feed directly into society, then it should be a microcosmic reflection of the people it serves. However, time and time again the runways have been whitewashed. Instead of a healthy depiction of the multicultural and multi-faith milieu of society, the catwalks have displayed a monocultural illusion.
The Fashion Spot Diversity Report found that 281 out of 745 magazine cover appearances were people of colour in 2018. That’s a significant 5.2% increase from the lesser figure reviewed in 2017. Although we are moving in the right direction, there is still a long way to go before people of colour are fairly represented and equally featured.
It’s not just about including one or two token black models into the catwalk. It’s about correctly representing society as a whole, with everyone visible in equal measure. Rihanna has been given credit for her Savage Fenty collection, and her diverse inclusion of models. Her chosen models all differed in size, height, age, race and ethnicity.
Time for change.
Some would argue that times are changing, but we are still seeing a lack of diversity in the industry. We are even hearing from the models themselves that there are issues of unfair practice and subtle racism happening backstage. These industry stories have now become commonplace, but this does not mean that they should be expected and brushed over.
Why aren’t fashion houses reflecting the diversity of their consumers?
Why aren’t runway hair stylists equipped to work with all types of hair, including afro-Caribbean?
Why do the corporate entities behind fashion houses have a majority white workforce?
Images sourced from Pinterest.