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Brief Published: 6 Mar 2018

FIT Tackles the Fashion Industry’s Diversity Issue

As detailed in The New Fashion Landscape 2017 Update, fashion is altering its approach to sizing, diversity and gender. These topics animated the Fashion Institute of Technology’s symposium in New York on February 23, reflecting issues explored in its current exhibit The Body: Fashion and Physique (see blog). We recount the highlights.

  • Serving Overlooked Cohorts: American fashion designer Christian Siriano, known for casting diverse models in his runway shows, said he offers both regular and larger sizes to boost business. “I don’t want alienate to customers,” he said. “At the end of the day, a fashion designer’s job is to sell clothing.” Featured in the exhibit is the dress Siriano designed for Leslie Jones for the premiere of 2016 film Ghostbusters after she complained that designers refused to clothe someone of her size.

    London College of Fashion professor Reina Lewis cited that Muslim shoppers will spend $368bn on clothing annually by 2021 (Thomson Reuters, 2016), creating an opportunity for designers of modest clothing.

    Similarly, British sociology professor Julia Twigg argued that designers who acknowledge baby boomers’ spending power and changing bodies can harness a powerful, underserved market sector. As an example, Twigg cited British retailer Edinburgh Woollen Mill, which remodelled its dress forms according to the 60-year-old body.

    For more on these cohorts, see Gen M: Millennial Muslim Entrepreneurs, Instagangs: 60-Plus and UK Female Boomers.
Christian Siriano A/W 18/19
Christian Siriano
Christian Siriano A/W 18/19
London Modest Fashion Week 2017
London Modest Fashion Week
Modest fashion blogger Hafsah Mohammed
  • Modelling Inclusivity: Following American designer Tom Ford’s recent comments on the dominance of small sample sizes, panellists condemned his obsolete attitude. “Think about being inclusive with models when starting your design process,” proposed Gary Dakin, co-founder of New York-based agency JAG Models. This approach is particularly relevant following a recent decrease in plus-sized models at New York Fashion Week (The Fashion Spot), as well as protests in London over the lack of curvy models at London Fashion Week. 
Tom Ford A/W 18/19
Protests during LFW
Chromat A/W 18/19
  • Fit for Marginalised Bodies: Grace Jun, executive director of accessible design studio Open Style Lab, emphasised the importance of comprehensive research when creating for consumers with disabilities. “Work with people, see their homes and understand their commutes to make successful pieces,” she said.

    American model and para-athlete Aimee Mullins encouraged designers to approach prosthetics imaginatively: “Why do prosthetics have to represent loss? Why not have them look like a cheetah or make them from glass?”

    For more on inclusive design, see Instagangs: Design for Purpose, Tommy Hilfiger Designs for Disability and Humanising the Hospital: IV-Walk Wearable.

  • Follower Feedback: Iskra Lawrence, British plus-sized model and face of American lingerie company Aerie, reinforced social media’s ability to empower consumers. “My followers learn about [how brands size] through social media,” she said. “I also use Instagram as a bargaining chip for modelling jobs – I can sit in marketing board meetings and give feedback, because I have that connection to consumers.”

    Siriano reiterated the value of consumer interaction: “Selling to customers directly is important [in executing diversity] because you’re getting real feedback.”
Aimee Mullins
Iskra Lawrence
  • Social Media Pioneers: According to Kings College London professor Joanne Entwistle, “fashion diversity isn’t happening in fashion. To see it, you have to go outside the industry… to Instagram.” Entwistle highlighted Instagram mums like British influencer @mother_of_daughters as an example of profiles that subvert traditional media representations by posting unflattering body shots and practical fashion tips.

    Lauren Chan, fashion features director at Glamour US, discussed how the magazine has integrated diversity into its editorial approach, sourcing models from Instagram rather than from agencies.
Glamour US

For more on social-savvy brands, see our reports A Fashion A'woke’ningFashion Ad Campaigns A/W 17/18: Diversity Gains and Instagangs: Directional Brands.

The Body: Fashion and Physique runs until May 5.