As you know, I am the mother of teenage boys. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, but there are times when I really miss having important conversations with young women. That is why writing Turning Fashion Inside Out continues to bring me so much joy. Today was one of those days, and I was honored to join a meeting with a group of spirited and thoughtful high school women of Kent Place School. The meeting was a combined effort of the Fashion Club and the Diversity Council and the topic was diversity (or lack thereof) in the fashion industry.
The leaders first identified startling facts and then they opened the floor for discussion, feedback and conversation. The facts are these: that even though white people represent only 16% of the global population, white people dominate the runway at 94.6%. There is a very small representation of women of color on the runway, including black, Asian and Latina models. Here is another fact raised in today’s meeting: the 1980s and 90s were the best years for racial diversity on the runway, but those numbers have steadily decreased. The question remains … why? What changed since then?
The leaders showed a clip of designer Rick Owens’ original and diverse fashion show for Paris Fashion Week Spring 2014, highlighting women and men of color and various body types, dancing step on the runway. But Rick Owens is the exception, not the fashion norm. In fact, fashion houses Celine and Dior, led by Raf Simons, are the worst offenders to highlight racial diversity. Thoughts and reactions from the women were strong, raising questions about the essence of beauty and the inclusive versus exclusive realities. Here were some comments:
“The fashion world is one narrow view of what beauty is.”
“It shouldn’t be this way.”
“The fashion world is starting to change and realizing that people are setting the trends and spreading their voices through social media.”
“It’s an issue much deeper than the world of high fashion. The bigger issue is about changing things at the commercial fashion level. It would be easier to target commercial brands, like H&M, Forever 21, and Delia’s, first, and then other areas would follow.”
“The sad truth is that there is a perception of beauty and that is what sells.”
There was a strong feeling that if you change the dialogue about what is true beauty, positive change will follow. And there was also the feeling that we, as consumers, need to feel like we are included in the message. When we feel excluded, there is a disconnect to what is being sold. I know for myself, that when I see women ages 40 and 50 represented in ads, I feel better. I just do.
My heart warms when I think about these young women of Kent Place and their continuing conversations about life and fairness. They represent!