Trending :

July 25, 2024

LuxeBook longreads: How far has the fashion industry come in terms of inclusivity?

By Arushi Sakhuja and Schenelle Dsouza 
The idea of inclusivity has gone way past merely the fashion realm. As society develops a modern outlook, the notion of being more exclusive is penetrating brands and individuals across all industries. While body positivity has been a common thread in fashion, today it includes gender, class, size, colour and more. However, true inclusivity means ensuring diversity and representation both on and offstage.   
Recently, Sahib Singh, a four-year-old boy’s image went viral on social media when he became Burberry children’s first Sikh model. And it was instantly associated with the concept of inclusion, highlighting that it’s high time to rise above the stereotypes of colour, caste, gender and religion. Victoria’s Secret also decided to introduce its first model with Down Syndrome which shows that the importance of diversity and inclusion is increasing for retailers. And, in today’s world, there are many more similar examples. Diversity and inclusion are growing trends across the globe and the fashion industry, and they are two interconnected concepts. Diversity is about the representation or the make-up of an entity. Inclusion is about how well the contributions, presence and perspectives of different groups of people are valued and integrated into an environment. 
Brands and diversity in India 
In December 2022, McDonald’s India campaign advocated for a more accessible world for people with disability. The film is about a young girl with limited upper limb mobility, and it showcases the girl going about her day finishing everyday tasks independently and with ease. She brushes her teeth, gets ready for the day, ties her shoelaces, and so on. Instead, she simply finds unique ways to accomplish everyday tasks. The film ends with her enjoying her McDonald’s burger. Mohey’s Kanyamaan campaign with Alia Bhatt aimed to promote a more inclusive and equal space for women in marriage and in life. Through the film, Alia talks about a new idea that creates a union between the ritual itself and its underlying thought process placed in the modern context. The campaign was an important reminder that we need to take another look at regressive practices that benefit patriarchy. Dove’s StopTheBeautyTest film showed us real stories of beauty-based judgment and rejection faced by women during the matchmaking process, and the impact this has on their self-esteem. And hence, it’s safe to say that inclusive marketing starts with counter-stereotypes, to create a vision that consumers can resonate with and embrace. There has been a shift to campaigns featuring stories of real people told sensitively that have the power to move us far more. 
Inclusivity in fashion and beauty 
The fashion industry has been called out for racism and its lack of representation for decades. In a 2021 U.K. study, 90% of respondents believed that fashion industry images did not show a range of bodies and identities, and 87.5% felt they were not represented in fashion industry advertisements or on the catwalk. The re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the west in the early pandemic days served as a final wake-up call for fashion. The Spring 2022 Fashion Month was the most racially diverse fashion season, with 48% of appearances made by models of colour. Yet, behind the scenes, people of colour remain temporarily employed, with not enough non-white designers, proving that the illusion of diversity doesn’t equal a diverse industry. In terms of size inclusivity, body positivity seems to be a trend. Influencer Sanjana Rishi who recently became a mom spoke exclusively to Luxebook about the reality of inclusivity in the industry. “I fear the inclusivity is a trend—a lot of brands will do one “inclusive” campaign, pat themselves on the back, and declare themselves inclusive. But in actuality, that is at best inclusivity I’m representation. These brands need to also be inclusive of their CUSTOMERS by ensuring sizes are available and/or customizable without extra charge.” 
However, India is moving towards a more progressive fashion industry with fashion weeks that are paving the path for a change in society. Brands too are adopting a more inclusive approach such as Ritu Kumar’s photo series ‘Equally Beautiful’ which features ethnically diverse models to highlight India’s diverse cultural landscape and champion the notion of plurality. Noteworthy is also Gaurav Gupta who has been an advocator of inclusive clothing. His ‘Name is Love’ campaign and seminar on inclusivity called the ‘The Love Festival’ focused on stories of a diverse group of models and their struggles and triumphs with their different gender identities. The show featured trans, non-binary, and plus-sized models and same-sex couples wearing clothes with non-traditional embroidery and voluminous ruffles to show the fluidity of the couture.  
Anjali Lama, First Transgender Model
It was in 2017, when the first transgender, Anjali Lama, modelled for the Lakme Fashion Week in India. But Rihanna’s 2018 Savage x Fenty show was a celebration of womanhood in all shapes, colours, and sizes changing things for the global fashion scene. “The international fashion weeks, for example, were markedly missing the same inclusivity they were being lauded for last season. I hope it’s not like that for us,” shared Rishi.  
LMIFW Rainbow show
After the Supreme Court of India decriminalized section 377 (Indian Penal Code), The Spring Summer 2019 edition of Lotus Make-Up India Fashion Week (LMIFW) organised by FDCI closed with a spectacular ‘Rainbow’ fashion show! 40 designers from across the country paid tribute. Models walked the LMIFW runway in bold designs, looking fierce and fearless. In 2020, Gaurav Gupta’s digital fashion week has a diverse casting – including a young gay couple from Kota and UP; a trans-male 18-year-old; curvy woman, and a young lesbian couple living happily with their parents in Gurgaon, among others promoting forward-thinking.  Today, androgynous clothing that has been a staple in the west has also seen a rise in the Indian fashion sphere. The Indian fashion industry is attempting to create diverse visual imagery and moving away from standard or European notions of beauty. 
Masaba Gupta’s new beauty line LoveChild with a varied product line of high-performance colour cosmetics, skincare and wellness solutions is formulated for every age group, with colours developed to suit all skin tones to embrace indigenous characteristics. Speaking on building the brand she said, “I wanted to build something that did not bind women with preconceived notions of beauty and skincare. Honesty, inclusivity, and efficacy have always been a top priority while creating LoveChild. LoveChild is so much more than just makeup; it is love for your skin. It is a journey of nutrition, fitness, and wellness alongside beauty. With LoveChild, we have focused not only on colour but also on a holistic cosmo-wellness range. My aim with LoveChild was to keep it simple and accessible to everyone.” Fashion giant Zara launched a new beauty line that is impressively inclusive with over 50 foundation shades to suit every skin type as opposed to the usual foundations being available in only four or five shades with the darkest being just a few shades deeper than beige. Most recently, on 19 March, Pantone, the global authority on colour, announced the expansion of its SkinTone Guide 2023. The updated shade card has added an additional 28 new shades to the already existing 110 shades. Featuring a wider array of darker tones and yellow undertones, Pantone aims to be more inclusive and appeal to a wider audience. In an Instagram post, announcing the launch Pantone said, “Pantone colour scientists sought out an inclusive and wide variety of skin tone samples from volunteers around the world in order to update the new SkinTone Guide to be representative of the full spectrum of human skin types.” This might be a step that truly changes the way society thinks of colour, making the beauty industry more inclusive. 
brand inclsuive
#EquallyBeautiful by Ritu Kumar
However, there is still a long way to go, and a lot of education is left to ensure that inclusivity permeates the industry at every level, rather than just at a few catwalks and advertisements, but those conversations have been started. While the industry has come a long way in terms of inclusivity, Sanjana Rishi gave us a valid point to ponder over, she believes….”India has come far in the inclusivity battle, but not far enough. We need to do a lot more to make women who aren’t stick thin to feel included as customers. We need to celebrate the icons that Indian women, of all shapes, are.” 
Tokenism? 
With the conversation surrounding inclusivity doing its rounds, the term has come to be more of a trend in the industry, much like the term “sustainability”. Without any honest efforts for change, any attempt to highlight the problem can and will come across as a menial effort of trying of fit in – in this case, it might simply be an act of tokenism. Sure, we cannot deny the fact that the borders of beauty and gender inclusivity appear to be diminishing in some sectors. But when it comes to platforms like fashion runways, these have managed to present nothing more than concealed efforts of tokenism. Take for example the FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week. Touted as one of the most prestigious and influential platforms in the country, Lakmé Fashion Week manages to grab the attention of pretty much everyone in the country, and yet its efforts to positively influence society to seem to be almost non-existent.  
Last year’s fashion week presented more or less of the same – tall, skinny models with the perfect hair and what is often presented as the perfect body. This year however, the runway did bring out a spectrum of change, with a total five curvy models and maybe one queer model in a swarm of ideally perfect-looking models. So, is that enough?    

Brand
Colour Inclusivity, LoveChild By Masaba

I hardly think so, and here’s why.  
Sitting on the front row on Day 1 of Lakmé Fashion Week, I watched patiently hoping to catch a glimpse of at least one seemingly unconventional-looking model. I smiled almost immediately when I saw a lightly curvy model tread the runway, but not before noticing the way she had been sidelined. Although beautifully styled and confident in her walk, this model appeared to be dressed in what could only be described as a safe outfit meant to conceal her curves. She was then followed by a tall, thin model dressed in a daringly fashionable outfit flaunting her (beautiful) body, which begged the question of why the previous girl was prevented from doing so. We know beauty and fashion has their standards, however, the ploy of having to play it safe with a curvy body has always come across as off-putting. 
While most of the showcases at fashion week failed to capture the true essence of inclusivity, there was one that managed to stand out. Anuu’s Creation, helmed by designer Annu Patel featured a handful more real women, with lightly curvy models no taller than 5’6”. This left me impressed because although other designers attempted to include curvy models in their show, not one of them stood shorter than 5’10”. This further proves that although fashion runways have begun welcoming women of different sizes, there’s almost no room for those that fail to meet the number on the vertical scale.  
Speaking about her decision to include shorter models, designer Annu Patel shares, “We had a talented bunch of models and influencers walking for us and we strongly intended to include varied body types. We believe that every body is positive and every shape and shade is beautiful. Fashion is for everyone irrespective of body type, shape and height and we tried to convey the same through this line up.” 
During the rest of fashion week, I saw a dainty handful of curvy models walking the ramp for multiple designers. And while others cheered on at the so-called acceptance of the different body sizes, I was stuck on the fact that not one of them was allowed to show off their curves in confidence. Loose, oversized silhouettes, long sleeves, and seemingly safe and comfortable was the theme for the said curvy models, while the not-so-curvy ones walked baring it all. So where does inclusivity really fit in here?  
Designer Saisha who showcased her collection at Lakmé Fashion Week this year, spoke openly about the role of inclusivity on the runway as merely an act to be woke and cool. “Inclusivity means having a balanced pool of models, not just plus sized models but real women with real bodies – different shapes, sizes and even heights. I believe that the day we give importance to modelling as a profession for women and girls of all heights, shapes and sizes, and have them trained without any prejudice, is the day we’ll see any real change. Until then, any attempts at trying to incorporate inclusivity will always be about being woke.” 
Another interesting conversation at Lakme Fashion Week was the inclusion of one queer model. Suruj aka Glorious Luna spoke to LuxeBook about their journey in the industry, and their honest opinions of the conversation of inclusivity.  
“In a conservative country like India, accepting yourself and be able to sustain yourself with a job and any other opportunity is difficult. I believe our country needs some queer icons because growing up I never could relate to anybody I saw on television; there weren’t very many queer icons, and the ones that were there, were meant solely for mockery. And so, fashion and beauty were the only language I knew and understood, one that I could experiment with to express how I feel. Today, a majority of the people working in the fashion and beauty industry are queer. The might’ve had to conceal their identity initially, but things are slowly changing. I feel seen and heard as a queer person.” 
Speaking about India’s role with representation, Luna believes the country is trying and has even come a long way. “India might not be as accepting as the west, but I do believe we’re getting there, although it is a long journey ahead. When it comes to creative fields like fashion and beauty, the industry is quite accepting. But there needs to be more queer representation in corporate spaces where queer people are strongly discriminated against and hardly ever taken seriously.” 
You may also like:  
The beauty of Indian Weaves and Prints 
7 formal wear labels to build your wardrobe 

Arushi Sakhuja

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter