Fashion’s Diversity Gap
Inspiration: Clarabelle Blog
The lack of diversity on fashion runways and campaigns has been a mounting pressure point for the fashion arena. Across the world, people of colour, along with plus-size, transgender and older models continue to be underrepresented, prompting calls for more inclusivity on the runway.
The diversity figures
The Fall 2016 Diversity report by The Fashion Spot surveyed 312 shows and 8,727 model castings from New York, London, Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks. It was found that less than 25 percent of the models who were cast in fashion shows this season were people of colour (categorised as black, Asian, non-white Hispanic and other). Out of the 25 percent that represented minority models, black models made up slightly over 10 percent, while Asians represented about 6.5 percent. This stands in contrast with the overwhelming majority of white models — 75.25 percent — who were cast.
White models were also commonly chosen over models of colour for editorial coverage and advertising campaigns. Fashionista’s round up of 2015’s September Issue covers revealed that only 12 of the 41 covers featured non-white men and women. This contributes to the fact that last year, just under 20 percent of fashion magazine covers featured models of colour, according to data collected by The Fashion Spot. Fashion advertising has also become a legitimate target for critique, with white models making up almost 85 percent of those cast in campaigns.
Inspiration: Thoroughly Modern Millennial
Lack of visibility
The fashion industry has historically struggled with its acceptance of models that don’t adhere to a certain type. Designers, stylists, booking agents and industry professionals often claim that consumers aspire towards a narrow Western ideal of beauty — one that prioritises whiteness. Unfortunately, few are making a conscious effort to deviate from this standard. Furthermore, the lack of visibility of models of colour reinforces the idea of ‘whiteness” as the accepted model.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that nothing has been done. The fashion industry is definitely talking about diversity. Greater media coverage, the work of outspoken advocacy groups such as the Diversity Coalition and backing from the Council of Fashion Designers America (CFDA) has brought the issue of diversity to the forefront. But these efforts have not translated to more models of colour walking the runways or more appearances in glossy magazines.
There are of course designers like Riccardo Tisci, Marc Jacobs and Zac Posen who include a diverse range of models in their shows, but they are the exception to the rule. Most fashion brands pretend to address the issue by recruiting minority models but discard such hiring policies after just one or two seasons. Indeed, as Vogue notes, fashion’s treatment of minority models often seems to be centered on tokenism. For a long time, it seemed the industry only allowed room for the rise of one model of colour at a time. Naomi Campbell is indubitably the most famous of them all. She was the first black model to front a Prada campaign in 1994. Since then, not a single black model featured in Prada’s advertising campaigns until Malaika Firth got cast in 2013. While there have been considerably more breakout runway stars in recent years. Beyond a few recognisable Black and Asian models like Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn, Kiko Mizuhara, Liu Wen and Godfrey Gao, few are able to stay on fashion’s radar long enough to effect real change upon the industry.
Left: Teen Vogue, Designscene
The multicultural edge
Until now, fashion had revolved around the fashion week cities of Paris, New York, Milan and London, bolstered by the success of European fashion brands like Kering and LVMH. While it used to be that the West led the fashion charge for the rest of the world to follow. The same cannot be said of the fashion climate today. Fashion weeks are staged all over the world and global brands are taking their shows on the road to far-flung exotic locations. Over the summer, Chanel rolled out the runway carpet in Havana, Louis Vuitton tripped off to Rio De Janeiro and Gucci wowed Britain’s fashion elites in Westminster Abbey.
Fashion consumers are also more diverse than ever. Case in point: Asia-Pacific’s share of the global luxury goods market grew ten percentage points from 2007 to 2015 and the Middle East and Africa have been pegged as the fastest growing luxury markets in the world. (BOF) So why hasn’t the fashion industry evolved to fit this new reality?
The past decades of side-lining models of colour (or any person of colour really) points to a larger, more embedded problem. Perhaps fashion’s diversity problem starts from the boardroom, where few key decision-makers belong to the minority races? Or perhaps there are simply not enough designers of colour to dismantle the unconscious racial bias that plagues the industry.
True, it’s next to impossible for designers to design clothes that fit everyone and anyone, but it pays to consider how something would look on someone with a different skin tone, for instance. Indeed, diversity-friendly fashion brands will base their designs or messaging on careful research, often operating on the understanding that the consumer wants to see himself or herself represented.
The bad news is that getting rid of such archaic ideas of ethnicity will take time. The good news is that anybody can do this. This doesn’t mean that you have to fix a quota of models of colour per casting or make a law. We’d prefer if people would consider including people of colour as the norm after all.