In our last article, we explored the effects the fashion industry has on the mental health of its consumers. From setting beauty standards, influencing body image and being a stage for representation– or a lack thereof, the industry has a very strong influence on how its consumers perceive themselves. But just as devastating as being subject to those standards is, the people who set them deal with a similar weight. The writers, photographers, designers, creative directors, stylists. Everyone who plays a part in the industry inadvertently takes part in both perpetuating problematic standards and dealing with the consequences.
Working in the fashion industry is a dream for many people, myself included. From a young age I knew that whatever path I took, whatever I studied or went to school for, I needed to make sure it would lead to working in fashion. I mean think about it. What other industry is so perfectly set up for freedom, self expression and creativity? Clothes allow you to show people your personality, your style, emotions, your innovation. I knew I wanted to be involved in that in some way.
And now, finally being in a place where I am involved within the industry I always dreamed to work in, I’ve had time to reflect on some of the bigger themes I have become part of. As a long time consumer, I often wondered how it was that people within the industry allowed some of the adversities to take place. For example, how could someone who is a person of color just stand by and be okay with the excessive use of white models. Or how could anyone above a size 0 be okay with the ultra skinny, heroin-chic representation that is all most brands use to show their clothes.
However, the lack of diversity and inclusion in fashion is a systemic problem that has been around for decades. The problem is so deeply rooted that the things people are now finding the power to call out, are actually just seen as standards within the industry itself. And at the end of the day, this is because some of the most important people in the industry are still in support of such problematic notions.
At the end of the day, fashion is a business. Photographers, writers and stylists are told to make things digestible. True creativity and freedom is generally shut down for a quick sale. Being told to fit a mold, especially one that isn’t inclusive or reflective of the people who make up the industry, can be detrimental to one’s mental wellbeing.
While we feel like we want to push the industry in a positive direction, it can be mentally exhausting to know that the bigger players do not care to see a change and only care to see a monetary increase based on outdated standards. Fashion does not seem to evolve at the same rate as other industries, and working directly in an industry that is so advanced yet so far back can be difficult.
That being said, there have been a few big players in the industry advocating for change and inclusivity, such as Rihanna with her lingerie brand Savage x Fenty. Whereas previously the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was extremely popular, over time the audience began to speak out against the lack of representation and the problematic equation of thinness to beauty. The Savage x Fenty fashion show changed the game through usage of a variety of models that are intersectionally diverse, using talent with disabilities, different weights, age and sexualities. Rihanna even included pregnant models, something that was not traditionally done before. The Savage x Fenty show quickly gained more popularity than the Victoria’s Secret show, largely because it actually represented the people who shopped for it.
Seeing a positive change grow on such a large scale was truly monumental for me, especially for my perspective on change within the industry. Sometimes it is hard to feel like we can make a difference and fight against old, backwards standards. But seeing someone take that first step feels inspiring. Sure, we all may not be working with a name like Rihanna’s, but the fact that she was able to fight against traditional fashion stereotypes and garner such a positive response on a large scale shows that we can have the same effect, even if it's on a smaller scale. Because every individual’s fight for inclusion and healthy representation adds up to create a larger impact. And what feels better than knowing you fought for something you believe in within an industry so set on exclusivity?
Brands like Paloma Wool and VETEMENTS are setting a better example as well. Paloma Wool consistently uses models of all shapes and sizes in their ecommerce imagery as well as editorials. VETEMENTS especially has been stepping away from traditional basic editorial photography and are using more authentic, user generated content. They also cast models of older ages and gender neutral aesthetics. These brands are pushing the boundaries of what is typically apropos in the industry and have been met with nothing but support from both consumers and industry employees.
I’ve realized that as people within the fashion industry, we have a responsibility to push for what we believe in and fight against outdated rules and standards. It can be scary, and it can seem insignificant, but in reality every small experience adds up. As more brands, and more creatives take the leap to do things their own way instead of adhering to the systemic standards, we will slowly see the inclusivity we crave. Each one of us, each creative, has the ability to make that change and push for the progress we believe in instead of just accepting the outdated standards of the industry.
Text by Yusra Shah