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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?