Fashion Leaders on the Fight for Diversity

Fashion Leaders on the Fight for Diversity

While fashion continues to lag in the push for diversity, these are the leaders who are fighting for change.

While fashion continues to lag in the push for diversity, these are the leaders who are fighting for change.

Text: Dominique Norman

While certain brands are being heralded for their use of models of color, size, and various gender identities this season, the Fashion Spot has given their annual Diversity Report, and the numbers are clear, the rest of the fashion industry needs to do better.

This year was only a .4 percent increase in racial diversity from last season. Plus-size representation has remained relatively stagnant. Only two shows were exclusively plus-size, Torrid and Addition Elle, and as per usual, Chromat and Christian Siriano paved the way in diversity in both racial and size inclusivity in their shows. Gender representation in the form of transgender and non-binary models saw higher numbers this season, with 33 models being casted not only for the ‘edgy’ brands, but also for designers like Tory Burch, Alexander Wang, Jeremy Scott, and Oscar de la Renta. However, the age gap seemed to be the most glaring, with only ten models over the age of 50 being casted this season.

This is an issue that was discussed at FIT’s Fashion and Physique Symposium, which brought together key players in the ongoing fight for inclusivity and representation in the fashion industry, including Tim Gunn, Christian Siriano, Becca McCharen-Tran of Chromat, Iskra Lawrence, Lauren Chan, and various scholars and activists. The symposium was a highlight of The Body: Fashion and Physique exhibit at the Museum at FIT, which challenges viewers on their understanding of the ‘ideal’ fashion body, providing a myriad of references from fashion, film, advertisements, and media that, as the exhibition states, “demonstrate how the fashion industry has contributed to both the marginalization and celebration of certain body types within our culture.” Emma McClendon, the associate curator of costume at FIT, opened the symposium by noting how the idealized fashion body is a social construct, a foundation to which we can understand why certain bodies are represented in fashion, why certain bodies are catered to, and some are excluded in retail, and certain bodies are portrayed as ideal. What each of the panels and speakers explored throughout the symposium was how these ideals and constructs are being resisted on an individual, communal, and institutional level. We’ve seen this recently with designers such as Becca McCharen-Tran of Chromat, who continues to be a leader in the conversation of diversity on the runway, as well as Christian Siriano and Gypsy Sport. In the 2017 documentary Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image, the statistic is presented that the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than words, offering the solution that if we want to change these hegemonic, normative ideals that have been engrained for decades, the best way is to do it is through changing the imagery, which is what so many of these change-makers are doing.

It’s imperative to note that we can not examine the ideals placed on bodies in the fashion industry without further examining the intersections in which they are impacted. As mentioned earlier, the lack of diversity in the fashion industry is not just failing in one category. These numbers are not isolated, and the groups needing to be further represented are not isolated either. It is important to question how the industry is going to address its lack of intersectionality, and for industry leaders such as the ones represented at the symposium to continue to push for representation of gender identity, age, race, and size on a number of different platforms.

The Body: Fashion and Physique is on display at the Museum at FIT through May 5, 2018. Check out the video below from the exhibit.

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