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The Power of Inclusivity

Ageism, sexism, racism and other forms of prejudice have been experienced by societies throughout time. In the UK today the widespread consensus is that men and women have equal rights. However this attitude was unimaginable in the early 20th century where women went to horrendous extremes to bring about change. The suffragette Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of a horse in an attempt to give women the right to vote. She represents a tragic but poignant example of a minority desperately fighting to be heard.

Fashion and Exclusion

Fashion is renowned for its exclusivity. With its extortionate price tags, size 0 models and “you can’t sit with us” attitude, the industry has typically been reserved for an elite few.

Yet the narrative of these brands is changing. Increasingly they claim that modelling is broadening its scope and finally welcoming all regardless of weight, ethnicity or ability. Is this truly the case? Or have they simply decided that ‘diversity’ is this season’s ‘must have’?

Fashion and Disability

0.02% of models featured in fashion and beauty campaigns are disabled yet more than eleven million people in the UK have a disability. That’s 19% of the population. If modelling was truly inclusive, in any photo shoot, catwalk or catalogue one out of five models would have a disability. Think of the last time you flicked through Vogue. Were one fifth of the models disabled? Did you even see a single one? This means people with disabilities are probably the largest and most under-represented minority group in the media and fashion industries. Unsurprisingly, those with disabilities are unimpressed.

Gucci recently made headlines for their choice of Ellie Goldstein, an 18-year old model with Downs Syndrome for their colour cosmetics campaign. The significance of this moment was not ignored by the brand’s followers, who gave her launch photo 850k likes - the most ever received on a Gucci Instagram post.

This is a step in the right direction, but the fact remains that the statistics are damning and tokenism is rife. The problem is more complex than just a lack of representation.

“Fashion week comes around, a couple of shows include disabled models – and that is a good thing – but the coverage that follows is often quite patronising. It often becomes a fuzzy, inspirational human interest story, aimed at a non-disabled audience, rather than a step towards real inclusivity.”
Cat Smith, doctoral researcher at London College of Fashion.

Minority groups want their individuality embraced by these industries and in 1998 Alexander McQueen did just that. He designed a bespoke pair of intricately carved, wooden prosthetic legs for disabled athlete Aimee Mullins. Her epic walk down the runway was a pivotal moment because suddenly the disabled community was represented in a “cool way”, rather than as just a box to be ticked.

Fashion and Individuality

Kyra-Jaye Hinds, a plus-size model with vitiligo who starred in the recent BBC documentary Models: Street to Catwalk, hated her skin when she was younger. She believed she was ugly. Her vitiligo - an imperfection. An aberration. An unwanted mutation. Her whole life changed when she saw Winnie Harlow (a black model with the same skin condition) compete on America’s Next Top Model. Watching Winnie’s meteoric rise to fame made Hinds realise that her skin condition didn’t have to hold her back. It was beautiful. Unique. Eye-catching. The je-ne-sais-quoi needed to succeed in the industry.

“It’s important to see disabled models, because seeing people who look like you is important in fostering empowerment and making you feel a little less invisible. Visibility also creates a more realistic representation and understanding of the lives of disabled people.”
Zoe Proctor, co-founder of UK-based Zebedee Models, the first-ever modelling and acting agency with an exclusive focus on talent with disabilities.

Fashion and industry

According to the Boston Consulting Group, companies with an above-average diversity in their management produced 19% higher revenue than those companies with a below-average leadership diversity. They were also 33% more likely to outperform their peers in profitability.

Consumers, especially Gen Z, are clamouring for diversity. More than half of them believe that retailers have a responsibility to address wider social issues with their marketing campaigns. The fashion industry had better listen closely to their demands as they will soon become the largest group of consumers, with an annual purchasing power of $143 billion.

Fashion and Power

Power to the individual who finally sees themselves accepted, whether it's for a major modelling contract, a high-profile role or simply as a member of the team.

Power to the masses who see themselves represented in the media and dare to dream bigger.

Power to businesses who can target all sectors of society, expanding their audience and increasing profits.

By standing side-by-side and working together we are more powerful. Covid vaccines were developed by scientists coming together and sharing their findings with no regard for differences. Where would we be today if these scientists had held onto prejudice or exclusivity? The fashion industry would do well to take note.


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