Is Diversity In Fashion A Done Issue?

Another London Fashion Week has been and gone, and regardless of where you’ve been, it’s unlikely you’ve avoided seeing a bountiful of articles on the event. You’ve probably seen plenty of street style, Victoria Beckham coverage (as always), and lots and lots of beige.

Activism has also been centre stage. Sustainability and environmental concerns has also been on everyone’s lips, whilst the Justice4Grenfell used LFW as a platform for protest. And at Vivienne Westwood’s show, models wore clothes emblazoned with political slogans.

It’s always lovely looking at the beautiful clothes that grace the catwalks, and fun spotting new trends. But fashion has always been about much more than that. So to for designers, models and more to continue to use their notoriety to bring attention to important social, political and environmental issues is to be applauded.

However, there is one narrative you may have seen less about: diversity.

Last year, it was all the range, with more inclusivity that ever before seen on the catwalk, and news and media outlets were only too keen to share this. But this LFW, there was little discussion. Why?

Is it because diversity is no longer an issue? Well according to many journalists, yes.

According to some, the diversity is done and dusted, and we now have equal representation through the fashion industry. So there’s no need to discuss it any more.

Last week I sat down with my friend and fellow ageism busting trailblazer, Rebecca Weef Smith, editor of Goldie Magazine, to discuss ideas she had to campaign for more inclusivity at London Fashion Week. I was horrified to hear of the backlash she had received from fellow journalists. Comments included:

"Fashion is more diverse than ever, you have missed the boat." 

"We don't need to talk about this anymore. It's done. Have you not seen there are black models everywhere? Actually we may well start getting told we are being anti-white girls."

"No one really wants to see old people on catwalks. Yuk." 

"We have picked a diverse range of models, we have a black one, a fat one, a trans one..."

"Everywhere you look in fashion you see beautiful young people of all colours, you must have your eyes closed if you think that we could be anymore inclusive."

Yes, we are seeing more ethnicities, ages and body shapes on the catwalk. But for every ‘diverse’ model, there are still countless more tall slim young Caucasian ones. As these statements illustrate, diversity has become a box ticking exercise, and once done, labels can continue to use the same traditional models without fear of condemnation. Even worse, there seems to be a very narrow idea of what diversity means, and to some, ticking only one or two of said boxes – usually ethnic diversity and size - means diversity as a whole has been dealt with.

So why aren’t we publicly addressing these issues? Well in some cases, it’s simply because it’s old news. Journalists want fresh stories and I get that. And in a world where click bate rules, and established publications are going under, they have to keep switching things up. If they’ve written about diversity already, they’ll feel they can’t do it again. But what they’re missing is there is a ‘new‘ story: how issue is evolving.

That said, clearly there are others who simply believe that diversity is sorted. This is harmful, at best naïve, and worst delusional. And I believe a lot of this is because the Fashion Industry and many journalists live in a very small bubble, ignorant to the fact that the majority of people still feel very excluded by the industry. 

As Rebecca recalls when she went to a show at London Fashion Week:

“I chatted to others standing in the line. Everyone felt that this had been a really diverse fashion week, and wanted to talk about sustainable clothes rather than discuss how ordinary people feel about being confused why they don’t see themselves reflected in fashion when they are the ones buying the clothes.”

But this perspective is coming from people who are in the industry; tickets to London Fashion Week aren’t available to the public. And their words alone show they don’t consider themselves ‘ordinary’. Conversations and comments with women over 40 outside of the industry  shows that many people still feel underrepresented or irrelevant or in the eyes of the Fashion Industry as they get older.  And when I did a quick (albeit not official) poll on twitter and facebook, 95% felt diversity is still a problem.

It's also worth remembering that even if there is more diversity on the catwalk, it doesn't mean it's trickling down to the shop floor or online. The majority of in-store and online imagery continues to feature young slim models, and we know all too well that many 'older' women still struggle to find stylish clothes that suit them and flatter their figures. As one lady recalled to me:

"I see a campaign featuring a model with grey hair and I feel it is speaking to me. But then I go on their website and their product images only feature young models, so I feel excluded again."

So, undeterred, this past Sunday I supported Rebecca and Goldie Magazine’s #FashionForAll campaign, by joining them outside London Fashion Week on The Strand to make statement. We held up placards and wore our Ageism Is Never In Style badges, and immediately were surrounded. Both professional photographers and members of the public couldn’t get enough, taking pictures and asking us to be in photos with them. Meanwhile, drag queens, who were already being snapped, were only too keen to hold up the placards and pose with them. In their view, inclusivity was far from over. 

Diversity may not be considered ‘news worthy’ any more, but it is safe to say it remains a problem within the Fashion Industry, and that many agree. When it first became ‘topical’, I was concerned that it would be a trend, and sadly it appears like it is going that way. Similarly the activism seen at this LFW has been labelled as ‘on-trend’ by the BBC, rather than something that is here to stay. 

But real change takes time. Prejudices are engrained in society, having seeped into corners even we’re often unaware of. It can take decades to revolutionise attitudes and even then there’s often still a long way to go before true equality; just look at the Civil Rights movement, feminism or LGBTQ rights. So how can we even expect diversity to be completely resolved within a matter of a couple of years?

If the press isn’t going to continue the diversity narrative, then it is our responsibility to do so instead. We must remain committed to our values and voicing our discontent about lack of representation in fashion. The more we continue to speak up, the harder it will be for the Fashion Industry to ignore us.

So don’t let this discourage you. Let it fuel you even more. Whether you choose to share your views on social media, post images of your latest outfit on Twitter, wear the Ageism Is Never In Style badge, shop with brands who champion inclusivity, or simply discuss the issue with your family and friends in person, you are contributing to the movement. No matter how big or small, you are making a difference and ensuring that great progress we’ve seen so far will not become a flash in the pan.

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