The fashion industry has always been judged by the models that walk the runways of famed fashion houses debuting their new collections to the world.
The critique has long been surrounding the use of a completely homogenous group of models: tall, white, thin girls with a beautiful face.
And this critique has been correct.
Historically, fashion weeks, from New York to Milan and Paris have featured solely this image of a model, rarely, if ever, including models of African, Asian, or South American descent, and even more rarely, plus size or petite models. For a while it seemed that the power fashion houses including Chanel, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Balenciaga, didn’t appear to care or hear this criticism. Over the past decade, inclusion and diversity in modeling has become a much bigger part of the fashion discussion. While the problem has existed for years, it has only become a recent issue, that is now beginning to influence brands to change their practices and model use.
Of course, this change is due, in large part, to the rapid increase in use of and importance of social media. For years, the fashion industry was seen as this elitist, unattainable, untouchable subset of society, and commentary was typically reserved to those privileged enough to inhabit its world and those who were deemed to have a superior understanding of “fashion”.
Everything changed, when social media came into the picture. Fashion, just as was the case for countless other areas of society, was no longer simply a discussion for the culturally affluent.
Social media gave a platform to the everyday person who could easily voice an opinion on the latest Marc Jacob’s drop, Vera Wang bridal collection, or, and more importantly, the lack of diversity in model representation.
As social issues surrounding diversity and inclusion continued to grow in importance in modern society, millions of previously quiet voices, made their thoughts heard on social medias and brands took notice. As the years have gone on, fashion houses have grown increasingly diverse in their model usage. New York Fashion Week in 2019 was reported to have 44.8% of their models be of color, the number of plus size models was double that of the previous years, and companies like Sies Marjan and Calvin Klein featured models above 50, highlighting the issue of age diversity that is so often overlooked. Fashion shows in 2019 and 2020 showed promise in increasing model diversity, and we hope this only continues in the coming years.
It’s also important to note that a major reason for this increase in inclusion is the formation of modeling agencies who represent a wide array of diverse models. Pioneering the industry was the Italian, Iulia Barton, founded by Giulia Bartoccioni. Iulia Barton works with individuals and companies from Europe, to Asia, to the United States (does Tommy Hilfiger adaptive tell you anything?!?), helping men and women struggling with disabilities, abuse, poor home conditions, and numerous other hardships, to become successful models. Iulia Barton and other similarly inclusive agencies are vital to creating an increase in diversity and enabling companies to expand their model selection. In the United States, one of these agencies that has become influential is Slay. Based in Los Angeles, Slay exclusively represents transgender models and gender queer models. Another powerful agency, Zebedee, based in London, featured Ellie Goldstein, a model with Down Syndrome and worked for Gucci.
And while it may be true that companies are feeling an element of “oh, if they’re doing it, then we have to do it too” as their reasoning for using a more diverse and inclusive set of models, we have to decide: does it even matter?
Does it matter if companies are only becoming more diverse in their model selection because they feel like society is telling them they have to or else the world will “cancel” them?
Does it matter if their primary motive behind increasing diversity is profit?
Does it matter if they’d prefer to use a homogenous group of models, but incorporate diversity because “everyone else is doing it” and they don’t want to be the odd one out?
Sure, maybe it matters a little.
To many, it probably matters a lot.
And it’s certainly a discussion that needs to be had going further. Ideally, values of diversity and inclusion would be held throughout a company, and fashion houses would want to be diverse and include a wide array of models simply because they value inclusivity and know and feel it is the right thing to do.
But if that’s not the case, there’s not necessarily much we can do. In the end, for the people that are viewing fashion shows, and going to fashion weeks all over the world, the most important thing is seeing that diversity out on the stage. Representation is so important, and fashion is something that affects every single person in the world, so making sure that every single person feels represented is imperative. And luckily for us, it seems the fashion world is finally getting it- and it can only go up from here!