“Fashion should be real. We should be able to relate to fashion. We want to be able to dress the way we want and feel good.”

REPRESENTATION: A Conversation on Fashion and Intersectionality – by Malia Indigo

Left to right: Mic. Carter (L’Uomo Strano), Josiane Modjom (Malia Indigo), Aisha Fairclough (Body Confidence Canada), Heidi Ruggier (Matte PR), Michele Taras (Michele Taras Art Apparel), Kathleen Newman-Bremang (Refinery29)
( Photo credit: Malia Indigo )

The issue of the lack of representation in the fashion industry is still an ongoing challenge. For every one step that the fashion industry makes in knocking down barriers (i.e., Rihanna being the first woman of colour to launch a luxury fashion brand with LVMH), it takes about three steps way back in upholding obsolete beauty standards while insulting minority groups in the same breath.

With the call for authentic representation in fashion getting louder, it’s important now than ever that the fashion industry wakes up to the needs of the consumers and include a broader range of people in its design and storytelling process.
The online fashion networking platform, Malia Indigo, hosted a panel discussion about the future of representation and diversity in fashion on Thursday, July 18th, 2019. The panel consisted of a mix of industry professionals keen to share their thoughts on the subject.
The panel members were: Malia Indigo, (founder, Malia Indigo); Aisha Fairclough (advocate, Body Confidence Canada); Heidi Ruggier (founder, Matte PR); and fashion designers Michele Taras (Michele Taras) and Mic. Carter (L’Uomo Strano).

Led by Refinery29 staff writer, Kathleen Newman-Bremang, the discussion provided deep insights into the lack of representation, diversity, and inclusivity in the fashion industry.

Each of the panelists brought a unique and valid perspective to the discussion. Three recurring themes underscored all of their responses. The three themes are:

  • 1. Representation means real inclusion of the people who don’t ‘fit the mold.’

When discussing her experience at various fashion shows, Michele spoke about how many runways have that one token model to show the world that they’re doing the right thing in hopping on the diversity train. This is a shallow attempt at true representation. Tokenism is damaging as one person from a minority group doesn’t truly represent all. Aisha added to the response by asking the audience to name a famous plus-size Black model, and the silence that followed spoke volumes.

She then stated that the frustration Black plus size women face when clothes shopping is real as they have to resort to ordering outfits online if they can’t find what they’re looking for in the stores. For true inclusivity, take a good look at the people who are being left out and bring more of them into the conversation and the shows, magazines, campaigns, and designs.

  •   2. Make More Room at the Table for Faces and Voices that are Being Excluded

When Kathleen asked the panel which brands are using representation authentically and which ones aren’t, Mic. Carter brought up the apology Burberry issued following the appearance of its hideously offensive ‘noose hoodie.’

Burberry's offensive suicide "noose hoodie"
Burberry’s “noose hoodie”
(photo credit: JOHN PHILLIPS/BFCGETTY IMAGES)

He then went on to say that apologies from major fashion houses when they make these kinds of offensive items after designing, producing, and showcasing are simply not enough. These apologies and the diversity-building initiatives that follow are surface-level attempts at damage control.

When asked what these brands can do to get representation right the first time around, Mic. quoted the famous Solange Knowles song and said,

“invite more people to the table.”

Hire more people and involve them in the process to make things that won’t get these fashion houses into trouble. The solution of creating your own communities was also raised. L’Uomo Strano was born from the fact that there are people whose needs are not being met by the antiquated Eurocentric, cisgender standards of menswear.

Malia Indigo REPRESENTATION- A Conversation on Fashion and Intersectionality
Designs by L’Uomo Strano
(Photo credit: Malia Indigo)

Joining communities with people who face the same challenges goes a long way in feeling seen, heard, and understood in a world that doesn’t make enough efforts to represent humanity as it is now accurately.

  • 3. Listen to the Voices that are Being Excluded and Be Mindful of the Messages You’re Portraying

Near the end of the discussion, Kathleen asked the question of how those who hold power in the fashion industry can be allies. Heidi mentioned how PR is an essential part of the storytelling process. By including narratives from people who have lived through different experiences, the nuances those experiences add lends more validity to the storytelling process. Malia brought up an excellent point of how fashion has a tremendous impact on mental health. Imagine walking into a store where the posters of standard size white models are plastered on the walls. The images that are being shown to the world and the messages they’re portraying do affect people’s self-esteem.
Again, it’s 2019, and yet the world is still being shown one extremely limited version of beauty, and the fashion industry is mainly responsible for enforcing that standard. Malia drove the point home when she said:

“Fashion should be real. We should be able to relate to fashion. We want to be able to dress the way we want and feel good.”

Look at the people who deserve to be part of the bigger narrative and listen to them without getting defensive. At the end of the day, we’re all consumers. When we make a connection to the model wearing the clothes, the desire to make a purchase is exponentially increased. Controversy doesn’t sell anymore.

After the panel discussion, Michele Taras and Mic. Carter showcased their designs with a mini fashion show. Michele Taras had a refreshing line up of models, including plus-size models, models with a disability, racially diverse models, and an older male model. L’Uomo Strano had male models that strutted down the aisle in stilettos and wearing fabulous non-binary outfits that would make Billy Porter jump for joy!

The panel discussion on Malia Indigo‘s Fashion and Intersectionality event concluded with a networking mixer where the audience met and mingled with fellow fashion professionals, the panelists, and the models in the fashion showcase.

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