Fashion – the outward expression of inner artistry, individuality, creativity. A space where needle and fabric coalesce to form a statement that cannot be spoken through words, but by perspective. Historically, the fashion industry has been criticized for its lack of representation and limited accessibility, suffocating the vision that all were made to share. However, as the winds of change begin to blow, an air of diversity breathes into various campaigns, runway shows, and designs. To promote the story that fashion was meant to tell, a collective breath of progression must be taken so that the future may be inclusive.
Visiting the fashion industry’s history is met with the realization that inclusivity was not made a priority. Runway shows and advertising campaigns predominantly featured a narrow definition of beauty, with limited representation of different body types, ethnicities, and abilities. Showcasing itself as a mirror for society to gaze upon, shattered glass revealed that only certain people could look at the fashion scene and see themselves reflected back. Change was made once the questions were flipped back to the ones who created the answers, forcing the industry to reexamine their practices and form a sense of normalcy around an idea that was once an underground conversation.
The 2010s served as the necessary breakthrough to unearth the decades-old conversation of inclusivity in the fashion industry. In recent years, the fashion scene has experienced a discernible yet gradual transformation in terms of inclusivity and representation. Hundreds of creatives, models, photographers, designers, etcetera serve as voices of positive change in using their own identities to propel a movement greater than themselves forward.
One of those voices, Alexandra Kratos, utilized her platform to shed light on representation and access within the fashion industry for those with a disability. Alexandra is a model, activist, entrepreneur, and public speaker from Ukraine who now resides in London. Her list of accomplishments ranges from advising the mayor of Dnipro, a Ukrainian city, on the accessibility of urban spaces, to collaborating with a designer in India as the first model with a disability from abroad working in an Indian fashion market, to starting a fashion label with the goal of meeting the needs of the wheelchair users in a stylistic way.
When asked by Wow Woman if Alexandra felt pressure from her position as a role model in the fashion industry, she said, “I do not feel pressured by it. I feel inspired when I meet like-minded people who just do not believe we should wait another decade to admit the obvious: just how diverse our world is. Taking diversity seriously is the only way to move forward in the fashion world. Inclusion gives a big opportunity for innovation.”
Inclusivity is not just confined to models; true diversity means hiring stylists, designers, directors and producers of all races, sizes, abilities, and more. It means building fashion agencies with both diverse staff and diverse models, creating a broader perspective and push for innovation that begins upon conception. True vision is curated through combined perspectives, ideas, and experiences – fashion cannot be deemed innovative if one voice shouts loud above the rest.
For instance, in 2017, Edward Enninful, Ghanaian-born editor and stylist, shattered barriers as he became the first black editor-in-chief of British Vogue, marking a significant moment in the industry's history. Subsequently, Tyler Mitchell, a photographer from Atlanta, became the first black photographer to capture a cover for American Vogue's esteemed September issue. Across the Atlantic, Virgil Abloh, a designer from Illinois, made history as the first black man to assume the role of artistic director at an LVMH-owned brand, thereby breaking down long-standing racial barriers within the fashion conglomerate. In 2013, Eva Chen was named the first Asian American to run a Conde Nast magazine when she became editor of Lucky. These long overdue milestones signify a notable shift towards greater diversity and inclusivity at the highest echelons of the industry's hierarchy.
“For me, it’s an affirmation of certain autobiographical aspects of my blackness, but if other people enjoy that, too, I think that’s great,” Tyler Mitchell said in regard to his work. “I think, ultimately, I would simply like people to walk away understanding the power of images to rewrite history.”
Fashion, through any medium, has such a power to rewrite history in a representative way. With Mitchell’s creative direction finding inspiration from his identity and experience, more are able to not only see themselves through his work, but learn and gain a different perspective when they pick up an edition of Vogue.
Data compiled by The Fashion Spot offers statistical evidence of the changing landscape. Through observing 4,409 model appearances across 193 major presentations, statistics revealed an increase in the proportion of advertising campaigns featuring models of color, rising from a mere 17 percent in the spring of 2015 to 48.6 percent in the fall of 2022. This upward trajectory demonstrates a conscious effort to embrace and celebrate diverse ethnicities within the industry.
Fashion weeks in prominent fashion capitals, including London, New York, Paris, and Milan, have also witnessed a comparable transformation. The runways now showcase a more diverse array of models, representing various age groups, sizes, and gender identities. Older models, plus-size models, as well as transgender and non-binary models, are being increasingly recognized and given prominent roles during these highly influential events, though room for improvement still largely exists.
These developments are emblematic of the industry's commitment to breaking away from the traditional mold and embracing a more inclusive narrative. The increased visibility and representation of marginalized groups on fashion week runways underline a collective effort to challenge preconceived notions of beauty and broaden the industry's definition of what representation looks like.
Birmingham, in particular, has emerged as a city that promotes inclusivity in the fashion scene through Magic City Fashion Week and beyond. In SZN IV of MCFW, Diana Rawlings of Draped2Nines showed a collection of sarees that paid breathtaking homage to the art form that has long existed in India and eastern countries. Such well-tailored, vibrantly colorful, artistic pieces showcase the fact that fashion tied to every culture should be celebrated, and utilized as a source of inspiration.
Designers and models alike who have shared their magic with MCFW represent the atmosphere of togetherness that shifts the fashion narrative for good. Karneshia Shantel, a model who uses her artistry to advocate for justice and representation for those with disabilities, modeled MCFW’s runway during SZN IV and wrote, “My Magic City Fashion Week experience from start to finish. So many people came together to make this event successful. Truly diverse. Fashion is on the rise in Birmingham!” (@k.shantelofficial)
Looking ahead, the vision for the future of fashion is one where inclusivity is the norm rather than an exception. Designers and brands are increasingly aware of the importance of reflecting the diverse identities and experiences of their customers. This includes creating adaptive fashion for individuals with disabilities, offering a wider range of sizes and fits, and ensuring that their designs are culturally sensitive and inclusive.
In order to achieve a truly inclusive fashion industry, collaboration and continued dialogue are essential. It is crucial for designers, brands, and consumers to actively engage in conversations about inclusivity, challenging existing norms and advocating for change. By doing so, the fashion industry can evolve into a space where everyone feels seen, represented, and celebrated.
The future of fashion is bright, and it is rooted in inclusivity. As we continue to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo, the industry will become a place where individuals of all backgrounds, sizes, abilities, and identities can find their voice and express themselves through fashion. Join in Magic City Fashion Week's community through signing up for our weekly newsletter that offers style insight, information on events, and so much more, and follow our social media so that you don't miss out on the magic!
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Story by Noelle Neader