With the emergence and ultimate rise of Rihanna and her fashion and cosmetic empire, many other brands noticed Rihanna’s tremendous success and jumped on the bandwagon of the diversity train. However, moving into a new decade, there are things that certain brands need to understand in order to truly represent under-represented minority groups, and that is the difference between diversity and inclusivity.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America and PVH Corporation described diversity as the “measure of difference” amongst the workplace or in an industry. However, inclusion is described as an environment where all types of people feel comfortable expressing themselves as well as their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions, contributing their best work to further the company or industry they are in.
“It is often assumed that diversity is enough, however, without inclusion, diversity is ineffective.”
To expand on this idea, many brands in the fashion industry feel that by adding three black models amongst a sea of sixty other white models in their runway show is being inclusive. Or a designer believing they have done their part in the fight for diversity by including a size sixteen model in their latest ad campaign, but refusing to dress plus-size women for red carpet events. Whatever the case may be, these types of perfunctory actions are continuously ongoing in the industry, and often these brands get immense amount of praise from consumers, critics, and the general public, with people believing this is what genuine inclusion looks like.
Inclusivity should not feel like a social responsibility or moral obligation. It should not be forced, nor should it be done with the belief that diversity and inclusion is a trend. Elle Germany was under great fire this year, when in an attempt to highlight strong black models in the industry, titled their article “Black is Back”, insinuating that racial diversity is just a mere trend or a passing fad. Supermodel Naomi Campbell even commented on this controversy by stating, “Your mistake it is highly insulting in every way. I’ve said countless of times we are not a TREND. We are here to STAY.”
Far too often do we see brands performing acts that can be interpreted as tokenism, capitalizing and ultimately profiting off of underrepresented models, giving off the false appearance of genuine equality and meaningful change. Coming into the 2020’s, brands need to understand that the inclusion of minority groups, including POC, queer, or plus-sized individuals, is not a trend with a brief lifespan.
As fashion often reflects the conditions of our society, the state of our world and time can also affect the behavior of consumers. With a more socially and environmentally conscious generation Z coming of age, as well as Millennials maturing and advancing in life, the demand amongst consumers for more transparency within fashion brands is substantially growing. People want to know more about brands than ever before, demanding that they are not left in complete secrecy. People want to know a brand’s core values, their ethical beliefs, and exactly how and where their products are made.
“This constant battle between diversity and inclusivity occurs at the same time that so summers are starting to be more deliberate about what they buy.”
This in return leads to a sense of trust and the development of a loyal relationship between a company and customer. Because of the demand for transparency, it is essential for brands to be genuinely inclusive. They need to shift away from the bare minimum attempts at being diverse, and instead move towards a radically inclusive brand imagery as their core ethical belief.
The 2010s took many great leaps towards the uphill battle of diversity in the fashion industry, however, diversity is just not enough. Genuine inclusion of people of color, the queer community, plus-size models and so on is a vital progression brands need to make as we enter a new decade. For so long, the industry has blocked out many minority groups, but as we move forward, the simple thing society must do is listen to the voices of those barely heard. Listen to OUR voices. For one day, little boys, girls, and others can look at a runway show or an ad campaign and see a model that they truly identify with. A model that won’t want to make them change their skin color, their hair texture, or their weight.
So to the fashion industry, a simple word of advice… just be more like Rihanna!