Inclusive fashion is more than just size



Anastasia Matano

Consumer consciousness has grown exponentially in recent years, with Generation Z voices and the sociopolitical movements of this century taking center stage across all forms of social media.

The fashion industry specifically has faced a broad array of criticisms involving diversity, inclusivity, ethicality and sustainability, and while fashion brands have made progressive efforts previously unheard of, there is still a long way to go.

Diversity and inclusivity have become essential components of online retail for fashion consumers. Brands that acknowledge the need for racial diversity, body inclusivity, sexual representation and representation of the disabled community are not only necessary but are the future of fashion.

One of the first culprits of fashion inclusivity was and still is size inclusion. The narrative of skinny, long-legged models with light skin and sharp features is slowly disappearing in favor of the body positivity movement, whereby women and men of all body types and sizes are represented.

The unrealistic beauty standards of sizes U.S. 0-4 are no longer tolerated by the public, and the body positivity movement is the “largest push-back against a lack of diversity and positive self-images in the fashion industry,” according to Luxiders Magazine.

Body positivity was one of the first aspects of fashion inclusivity to be highlighted in the public eye, largely because traditional modeling agencies wanted “white, skinny, young and female.”

The narrative of slim, Euro-centric beauty being the standard contributed greatly to the lack of self-esteem so vividly present in both men and women. According to Park Nicollet Melrose Center, nearly 70% of perfectly healthy women desire to be thinner and 80% simply “don’t like how they look.

Size inclusivity is only one part of the problem. What faces a growing demand now is the need for diversity in the fashion industry, specifically racial and ethnic diversity.

According to The Business of Fashion, the practice of “occasionally putting a non-white face on a magazine cover” is no longer enough, nor has it ever been. Fashion is meant to reflect the audience for which it serves, and that means finally representing people of color community rather than exclusively targeting white people.

Racial and ethnic diversity isn’t just confined to models; true diversity means hiring non-white stylists, designers, directors and producers. It means building fashion agencies with both diverse staff and diverse models, because doing so brings in “diversity in perspective.

Allowing men and women of color to not only model but construct, design and produce fashion campaigns connects communities across the human-made obstacle of race.

Most importantly, diversity in fashion opens the door for people of color to enter mainstream media where they sorely wish to see faces and struggles that resemble their own. It helps make a fragmented community whole.

Inclusivity, however, doesn’t end there. Representation of the LGBTQ+ community is also integral to the future of fashion, and given that this community’s cumulative spending power would represent the fourth-largest economy in the world, the fashion industry better start
listening to this neglected demographic.

The lack of personalization in fashion is an ever-present issue for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for the younger population. Consumers are forced to decide between two genders regardless of whether they identify with either one and, for young individuals who are still figuring out both their sexual and personal identity, this is extremely limiting. Modeling has failed similarly, with many transgender and non-binary models feeling “forced to conceal their identities” in order to obtain success in the fashion industry, according to Women’s Wear Daily. Members of the LGBTQ+ community should not have to hide their sexuality or gender to succeed.

When individuals who struggle similarly can succeed in a world as cut-throat as high fashion, it opens the door to a whole new market of consumers who wish to support the fashion they see themselves represented in.

This is also true for people with disabilities, who are “often ignored in the world of fashion” despite having an estimated population of 1 billion, according to Glamour. There exists an enormous lack of representation for the disabled.

Seeing models in wheelchairs, with canes or wearing colostomy bags, among other types of physical disabilities, are images that disabled individuals are only now just barely seeing in the fashion industry. ASOS, for example, only recently featured a model with a cochlear implant, which is laudable enough, but truly is the bare minimum.

Another enormous issue is the genuine lack of clothing options that disabled individuals have.

Take blogger Nicola Lavin, for instance. Her struggle with Lyme disease means that she requires functional clothing that can account for her temperature irregularities as well as her fluctuating weight gain. Requesting clothes that account for this, however, means that they will be “difficult to find” and “will often cost more in specialist shops,” Lavin said as reported by Glamour.

Therein lies the flaws of the fashion industry, and it is high time for these flaws to be fixed. Inclusivity and diversity are dedications that must be committed to in every aspect of the fashion industry, from employees to models to vendors and producers. It can no longer be a “side project.”

The good news is that committing to increased inclusivity and diversity, while most certainly not easy, will permit long-lasting social change and heaping benefits for both companies and consumers.

Consumers will be provided with positive representation and necessary options, and companies will “win the hearts of consumers and employees alike,” Forbes reported.

Broader markets and better products mean higher profits and, best of all, the fashion industry will finally be making amends and doing right by its consumers.