Since 16, I have always known that the world of fashion was the place I wanted to be. Opulence, glamour and flashing lights took over the scope of runways from Alexander McQueen to Prada. Gorgeous models with 10-foot-long legs graced the covers of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and W magazines. And television ads took over the industry’s lens through whitewashed paradigms that often claimed one form of beauty.
As a young Black girl wanting to make it big in a lucrative industry, I saw the billboards of alluringly attractive women that were the epitome of European beauty standards and all that I was not. I often questioned why I hadn’t seen women that looked like me. That didn’t have the texture of a kinky curl or the slightest curve in their hips. The slightest bit of melanin wasn’t achieved if it weren’t for tanning cream, and skin that showed any form of Blackness was often photoshopped out of fashion and beauty campaigns. All in all, I did not see myself in a space that I desperately aspired to be in, and nevertheless, I still aspired to somehow change it anyway.
Almost 90% of people say that fashion industry images have not represented them
According to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion (T&F APPG), almost 90% of people surveyed for the report said that fashion industry images did not represent a spectrum of different bodies and identities. While 87.5% said they did not feel represented in advertising campaigns, fashion shoots or on the catwalk. Black and brown consumers remain at the end of the stick within representation, despite being the most widely populated group of people to support fashion brands. “African American consumers are 31 percent more likely than the general population to spend $500 or more on a handbag,” according to Nielsen Surveys.
Black people, in particular, have fought a double-edged sword when it comes to feeling seen, heard and appreciated in a world that has consistently aimed to not appreciate them. This essentially leads us to do more through our appearances and to partake in the neverending world of fashion consumption, despite it not representing us.
“Clothing from luxury to mid-level brands were leverage for social mobility and showed that you could afford the lifestyle you are living. Major brands and logos were key for expressing that. Particularly if the white gaze was in the purview,” said Kimberly Jenkins, Ryerson professor of Fashion Studies, to BOF. “Consumption became a function of self-identifying for Blacks. I can’t change my Black skin, but I can change anything else.”
The lack of diversity within fashion marketing plagues marginalized youth at a young age
It’s been years since shirtless white men with six-packs filled the storefronts of one of fashion’s most elite brands. From plaid button-up shirts to the distinct signature scent that filled the store’s dark-lit ambiance, Abercrombie & Fitch was the store you aspired to be in. “It was selling reassurance to insecure teenagers that if they could fit their bodies into these clothes, and see their faces in the faces (and abdomens) of the models plastered on the store walls, then they were going to be all right. Maybe better than all right,” MSNBC reports.
I distinctly remember walking into an Abercrombie & Fitch store and feeling rather left out. I saw the crushes of white men I knew in real life would never like me back, the faces of young models with golden yellow hair that I’d never look like and small sizes that often ostracized plus-sized consumers.
Netflix’s documentary White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch highlights the lack of diversity that so often plagues fashion marketing and the industry at large. “The documentary gets more substantive when the ‘fall’ component kicks in. Former employees share descriptions of encountering more or less open racism working at the company, whose advertising courted white, wealthy consumers,” The New York Times reports.
Fashion’s lack of diversity made me want to somehow change it
In addition to the lack of diversity seen within fashion marketing, luxury powerhouses continue to release products that have often offended their consumers. Whether it was Gucci’s blackface balaclava or a model seen wearing a noose around their neck while walking in a Burberry show, fashion’s lack of diversity has real costs that not only serve to threaten its consumers but the longevity of a brand’s survival. “These missteps have led to product recalls and massive backlash on social media, and in D&G’s case, severely impacted its business in a region that reportedly represents one-third of its sales,” Vogue Business reports.
Though fashion marketing lacked representation, I still had a passion to help change the narrative, as we are worthy of taking up space. Despite the color of my skin or the demographic to which I come from, I know that we each have the power to set a precedent for supporting our own, while also seamlessly dominating the scope of the corporate fashion industry to which we continuously drive forward.