Diversity is not a business add-on
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
This quote refers to the fact that all things or people are beautiful but it depends who is viewing them and if the beholder is the fashion industry, then beauty looks a lot like an army of white, tall, skinny young models.
For far too long, fashion has prided itself on its exclusivity, on its member club like mentality where if you don’t look a certain way from our age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, or national origin then you cannot be a member of this ‘club.’
Until only recently brands were in denial in the fact that they weren’t diverse enough or even at all. The CEO of Abercombie & Fitch in 2006 said in an interview that “a lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong.” This is such a closed way to think and in my opinion appalling. You set unrealistic beauty standards and it effects young people’s mentality. It sets your business up for losses, by only opening your business to a niche market. People choose not to support businesses who don’t have a good set of values.
Thankfully a massive amount of businesses do put a lot of thought and money into their diversity in their brands and embed it from the start because they care about all people no matter what, and they want to be available for as many people as possible
Strengths lies in differences, not in similarities. Stephen R. Covey
Customers vote with their wallet
We can all choose where we shop so why would we want to shop at places that don’t support diversity?
We don’t need to encourage these companies’ ways of thinking where there are so many better positive options for us to choose from. Also, if we decide to boycott this “old fashion” thinking businesses it will put pressure on them to change their ways and adapt a more diverse business.
Lack of diversity has real costs
In a recent article by Vogue Business, they talked about how in the past year big blue chip companies like Gucci, Prada and Moncler have had to pull products off shelves that evoked blackface. Burberry also had to apologise for a runway incident involving a noose, and Dolce & Gabbana had to abandon a massive Shanghai fashion event hours before, after a series of ads belittled Chinese consumers with misfired jokes.
These incidents led to massive product recalls, massive backlash on social media and also made their profits decrease after these unprofessional incidents.
You need to listen to what your customers want. Ignore them once -you could be forgiven, ignore them twice-you might lose some. But choosing to not represent your customer base in your communication, product and internal operations will be the death of you.
A recent article in Business of Fashion explains how the rise of social media and a shifting cultural and political landscape has changed the game, catapulting such conversations into the mainstream. Brands serving a globalised market are scrambling to cater to an increasingly diverse and vocal consumer base. Scandals over racially and culturally insensitive designs and campaigns at powerhouses like mentioned above and also high street brand H&M have proven that this is a high-stakes game. In 2018 they were rightfully slammed for being racist when a product they released started a worldwide conversation about race.
Like the lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret which for years chose to push its unrealistic beauty standards and ignoring customer feedback. The results from this was its annual televised fashion show was cancelled amid declining sales and dropping shares.
The lack of inclusive thinking and listening to customers of all ages and sizes saw the rise and sharp fall of one of the biggest lingerie brands in history. Again people decided to vote with their wallets and went to brands that really represent them like Rihanna’s brand when she launched Savage X Fenty, which focused on diversity and inclusivity which brings an annual revenue off 150 million.
Rihanna is known as the “Queen of Diversity”. Her Fenty beauty brand was also made with inclusivity and diversity in mind and can be seen by the number of different shades she offers. There are 40 tones for every skin tone which is larger than any other average beauty brand.
Labels are for clothes
High street brand River Island has a very popular pro diversity campaign that came from customers’ request to feature more people with disabilities. They called their campaign “Labels are for clothes”, they hope to promote diversity and challenge outdated labels.
They have included many Paralympic athletes like Jordan Luce and Kathleen Humberstone in their campaigns. They have used models with Down’s Syndrome and models who are survivors of cancer too.
Diversity is about creating an environment where a person can bring their whole self to work. Laura Miller
River Island has partnered with anti-bullying charity Ditch The Label to create a selection of slogan t-shirts and sweatshirts for sale that champion the “labels are for clothes” empowerment message.
They want to get away from people’s disability or condition and more towards them being know as everyone’s unique personalities. I think this is really important because we shouldn’t be labelled by what makes us diverse.
There is a gradual shift in the industry towards diversity. In 2017, Edward Enninful became the first black editor-in-chief of British Vogue and the proportion of ad campaigns featuring models of colour rose from 15% in 2015 to 35% in 2019. Older, plus-size, transgender and non-binary models are also appearing more frequently on fashion week runways.
Social media has changed the fashion landscape, giving visibility and a voice to communities the fashion industry has historically ignored. Social media has changed the conversation for the better by providing a platform for people to appreciate what makes them different and show there is a massive market for all beauty.
There is a rise of influencers who speak to and on behalf of the more diverse audience and also use their rightful status to make their voices heard and push the fashion industry to change and push them down the long road towards inclusivity.
Still got a long way to go
Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.
In my opinion businesses are treating diversity like an add on to make their business more appealing and to do the bare minimum just to keep consumers off their backs.
Diversity should be essential. We shouldn’t even need to mention it anymore. It should be embedded from the start and in the core values of a business. Companies just think of it as another way to sell their products instead of standing up for what is right.
Gucci is still failing to listen to consumers while releasing offensive clothing. Kim Kardashion-West also had to change the name of her new shapewear collection after the original name, Kimono. It sparked outrage in Japan and beyond.
This is not a fad; diversity and sustainability will continue to grow and be the dominate thing in the industry.” Ronald Milon
Companies need to be more educated and accountable and realise the time is now. They have had long enough, they need to jump on this wave or suffer.
There has never been just one standard of beauty, people want more from businesses. Diversity and inclusion is no longer a nice to have, its a must have.