The lack of diversity in the fashion industry.
Diversification within the fashion industry is on the up rise, now more than ever. With high end designers showcasing their designs on a range of body types, skin tones, genders, and ages, consumers are able to identify with many variations of beauty rather than trying to identify with just one specific look. The world is redefining the definition of beauty, and fashion designers are in the forefront expressing this change through their art.
Despite the increasing value of diversity, there is still a lack of black representation amongst fashion designers. “African American designers account for just one percent of those covered by VogueRunway.com, the main website for following fashion weeks around the world,” said Ariele Elia, co-curator of the Black Fashion Designers exhibit at FIT. For example, in New York Fashion Week there were roughly 70 fashion shows that showcased black designers’ Fall/Winter 2018 Ready-to-Wear lines. Of those 70 shows, only 9 designers of color were featured on the official calendar for New York Fashion Week. The lack of promotion from the fashion week calendars and different fashion avenues such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue has partially led to the underrepresentation of black designers in mainstream fashion. That is why social media is playing a vital role in marketing for many fashion brands. Through apps like Instagram, brands are able to reach well over 1 million users with the simple click of a button and the use of hashtags. Designers now have been ability to market and gain exposure by creating different avenues to express their art and creative control. This aesthetic can be witnessed through the designs of major fashion houses such as Off White, YEEZY, and Telfar. The same can be said about Queens, New York designer, Laquan Smith, who recently showcased his Fall/ Winter 2018 runway show using a broad range of models varying in height, shape, gender, and ethnicity.
The lack of black fashion designers has also stemmed from lack of representation in the classrooms of design school. In 2015, the Fashion Institute of Technology conducted a study and found that in the previous year only eight percent of graduates were of African American descent. Black people are not leaning towards design school for reasons like socioeconomic background, lack of finances, or because designing clothes is not viewed as a practical profession. For instance, Shayne Oliver, designer of Hood by Air (HBA), stated that “making clothes is not seen as a man’s job in black culture.” Outside of people like Jay Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Russell Simmons, black men lack a lot of inspiration needed to spark that desire to want to study design and make waves in the fashion industry. This is why people are witnessing the transition of primarily womenswear designers entering into the male market of fashion. There is a space that needs filling and designers like Romeo Hunte are stretching their talent, training, and knowledge of design over to menswear.
The absence of diversification behind the scenes also plays a part in how power is spread amongst different races. The fashion industry needs more black representation on a global level but it is difficult when approximately 12 out of 470 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CDFA) are black. The more black members present, the more power is spread across the spectrum. Power being spread equally ensures that more voices and opinions are heard to ensure that controversy, such as H&M’s marketing incident in January of 2018, doesn’t occur. Moreover, equally distributed power would help ease the minds of designers who prefer to exercise their creative control in unconventional ways similar to designer, Kerby Jean-Raymond. Kerby Jean-Raymond made tremendous waves during his Pyer Moss fashion show in New York Fashion Week of 2015 when he broadcast a 15 minute video about police brutality before the unveiling of his line.
The industry needs more people like Kerby Jean-Raymond; people that are willing to build their brand from the ground up while incorporating their life experiences,struggle, and culture into their work. The more black people that enter the industry, the more black people solidify their place in the industry; from there, black people have a higher chance at securing important titles in fashion, and ushering in new waves of black designers. Dario Calmese (member of the CDFA) at the CDFA and Google-sponsored panel, titled Black Fashion Founder Forum, stated, “When people of color move from representation to leadership, then it changes from being a moment to something that becomes normalized.” Once black leadership becomes the norm, there will be a higher probability of seeing more black designers and more black creative directors of top tier luxury brands. Furthermore, black representation will help make certain that we see more people like Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain, and Virgil Abloh who was recently named the first black creative director of one of the richest brands in fashion; France-based fashion house, Louis Vuitton.