Diversity is in. Its significance in the social debate is growing steadily – and there is no getting around it in the fashion industry either. But when Heidi Klum proudly announces it as the motto of Germany’s Next Topmodel and brands that have only ever perpetuated conventional ideals of Western beauty up to now suddenly try to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in a one-off post on social media, you can’t help but think that the fashion industry is just as opportunistic as any other when it comes to jumping on the diversity bandwagon. So are we just seeing a fleeting trend – or is a paradigm shift happening?
Since 2015, The Fashion Spot has been examining how diverse the runways of the Fashion Weeks in London, Milan, New York and Paris really are. From skin colour to height, age and gender: up to the shows for spring/summer 2020, diversity was continuing to increase. By autumn/winter 2020/2021, however, the trend was already backtracking – and it remains to be seen whether this is a one-off decline or a reversal. But there are also positive signs: the quota of black models at São Paulo Fashion Week in November 2020 was 50 percent and therefore a much fairer representation of the local population. A historical step towards more diversity. To achieve profound change, more diverse representations on runways or in photo editorials and campaigns are of course essential, but there is a lot more to it than that. Fair and sustainably positioned fashion labels are much more authentic in this respect and are already leading the way with their fair approach that promotes equality throughout the production process: including fair wages, the empowerment of women (and their rights) and equal opportunities through educational projects – all of which go way beyond a mere feminist statement emblazoned on the front of a T-shirt.
For a positive change towards more diversity in the fashion industry, the first step is for designers and brands to recognise and use their potential as opinion leaders and change-makers to address inequalities. That was also the topic of conversation in the Diversity Talk during the first Neonyt On Air in July 2020, together with speakers from natural cosmetics brand Dr. Hauschka, the Fashion Council Germany and content creator Julia Dalia. The group appealed to the beauty and fashion industry's sense of responsibility and called on it to use its own power to make diversity a reality. But it's obvious that the industry won’t change overnight. Brands need to be willing to realign themselves completely, along the entire value chain. That’s impossible to implement from one day to the next – it requires the will to change, a willingness to take risks, authenticity and courage. But with a conscious choice of models, cooperation partners, female photographers and producers along with transparency and equal treatment of everyone involved, long-term change is possible. This will ensure that the trend towards more diversity is reflected in the Diversity Report – and, above all, finally becomes the “new normal”.
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