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16th October 2019

Opinion: inclusivity in fashion needs to be sincere

Fashion brands are becoming more inclusive as the social and political landscape changes, but are any of them genuinely interested in making real change?
Opinion: inclusivity in fashion needs to be sincere
Popular British model, Jourdan Dunn. Photo: Tammy Manet

Fashion brands are increasingly championing diversity, in their campaigns, on the catwalk and in their messaging. Historically as an industry, fashion has promoted one kind of look: white, slim, tall and able-bodied. However, as consumers become more politically and socially aware, fashion brands seem to be changing the type of image they project. But how much of this is sincere?

The fashion industry and everyone who is a part of it knows that it has a diversity problem, and they also know that for the industry – and their careers within it – to survive, that needs to change. Some people, I’m sure, want it to change because they want to see the world around them, and the people in it, accurately represented in fashion and are aware of how important this is politically. 

Others, however, are aware of how financially beneficial it will be for their brand to become more diverse and may only champion it for that reason. Although it may be a creative industry, fashion is kept afloat by capitalism and it’s undeniable that some brands are only superficially becoming more inclusive.

Because of this, it can be difficult to tell who is really sincere in their efforts to become more inclusive. A useful way to figure out who is truly genuine is by looking at their founders; are they speaking out, and maybe more importantly, financially supporting the issue? Or do they appear ambivalent?

But even this isn’t as straight forward as it seems. Recent controversy between Kerby Jean-Raymond, founder of fashion brand Pyer Moss, and the Business of Fashion (BoF), a prominent fashion news publication, exemplifies this. The BoF 500 Gala, hosted earlier this month, aimed to celebrate inclusivity but Jean-Raymond wasn’t so sure of their intentions, writing about a gospel choir at the event: “By replicating ours and excluding us — you prove to us that you see us as a trend. Like, we gonna die black, are you?”

He also later posted on his Instagram: “Diversity and inclusion is a trend for these folks. BOF 499, I’m off the list.”

Kerby Jean-Raymond clearly believes that BoF and this event are monopolising on the current trend for diversity rather than supporting it sincerely. However, Imran Amed, BoF’s Editor-in-Chief, wrote an article addressing Jean-Raymond’s comments, stating: “When we decided to focus our latest print issue and accompanying BoF 500 gala on inclusivity, we did so precisely because a superficial approach to inclusivity is indeed insulting – and wholly insufficient.”

Amed then continued to discuss his experiences growing up as “the only brown kid in his class”. So, here we have the exact evidence I suggested was needed to demonstrate a brand’s sincerity: a founder speaking out and investing in making their brand more inclusive.

But Jean-Raymond’s concerns are still valid. The fact that no one from the BoF team had noticed that using a gospel choir may be problematic suggests that their team is not diverse enough and that, perhaps, they’re not making an effort to be sincerely inclusive. So what do we do with these conflicting pieces of information?

Consumers shouldn’t have to play detective – much like when they do when it comes to sustainable fashion – in figuring out which brands are genuinely sincere in their efforts to be more inclusive, but it is becoming increasingly necessary. 

There is another question that this debate might bring up: does it matter if a brand is sincere? Maybe, as long as people see themselves represented, both in campaigns and product, it doesn’t matter if brands’ efforts are superficial, as long as they are happening.

It’s certainly a positive thing that the social and political landscape has changed so much that fashion brands feel the need to become more inclusive and diverse. But needing to is not enough. Measures need to be put in place to educate everyone who has a role within the fashion industry about why this is so necessary.

The people behind these fashion brands need to be genuine in their want to make their brand more diverse, in order to ensure that increasing inclusivity becomes permanent within fashion rather than just a trend. The appointment of Diversity Officer’s by brands like Chanel is a positive start in creating permanent change. But a start is all that it is. It’s great that brands are hiring one person who has specific knowledge on how to ensure they are being inclusive, but one person isn’t enough.

Realistically, everyone who works within fashion should be educated on this, because diversity in fashion isn’t just about having one black model and one size 12 woman (the UK national average is a size 16, FYI) in your campaign; it’s about everything from what’s being posted on social media, the clothes being designed and who they’re being designed for, the people working in the customer service teams and so much more.

There’s no conclusive way to decipher which fashion brands are genuine in their efforts to become more inclusive. As consumers, however, we have the power to demand that diversity within fashion is not just a fleeting trend by supporting the brands who seem to be at least trying, and boycotting those who aren’t even making an effort.

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