Body and Racial Inclusivity Movement Finally Reaches Runway

2017 was a year that took great strides for inclusivity in fashion and beauty. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty collection shattered industry standards, releasing an unprecedented range of shades on the collection’s launch date. Meanwhile in the fashion industry, Khloe Kardashian’s designer denim line, Good American, launched with a groundbreaking collection designed for a “curvier” shape in sizes 00-24.

Fenty Beauty’s Pro Filt’r Foundation released with 40 shades. Photo by Fenty Beauty, featured on Instagram.

While increased options have been more accessible for years due to the rise in online shopping, options for women of color and body diversity have often been advertised as a separate market segment. In major retailers African-American hair products are set aside and a limited collection of beauty products are available for darker complexions. “Petites” and “plus” are always given a separate, smaller, and less prominent display, often in the back of the store or in a different store entirely.

In high fashion, plus size is almost unheard of. I myself, a size 4, can find myself without options at higher end stores due to the unrealistically slim cuts. If I, a cis-gendered white woman of relatively small stature, doesn’t feel welcome in the designer world, what does that say for more isolated communities?

Danielle Brooks, Orange is he new Black star, strikes a pose. Photo by Victor Virgile, via Getty Images, featured on hype hair.com.

This fashion week, designer Christian Siriano rang in his line’s 10th anniversary by celebrating beautiful women of all shapes, sizes and colors, finally bringing the body positivity movement into the world of high fashion. Ashley Graham, the curve supermodel who wears a size 16, opened the show, her first opening ever at a major fashion week. Orange is the New Black star Danielle Brooks walked in a gorgeous blue silk dress featuring a large slit and a low neckline. Neither woman’s figures were hidden but were instead celebrated.

While this may seem to fit in with the general movement in fashion advertising, high fashion has been extremely resistant to meet the progressive standards set by mainstream brands. In 2017, Ashley Graham was the tenth highest paid model, yet this was her first time opening a fashion week show. She has covered Sports Illustrated, designed clothing lines, and written books, yet no designer brand wanted her in their runway shows or featured in campaigns.

Ashley Graham walking the runway at the Christian Soriano 10th Anniversary Show, NYFW, February 2018. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris, via Getty Images, featured on enzstars.com. 

If designer brands don’t catch up with the times, they should expect not only increased controversy in the press, but an overall decrease in their profitability. As we see other brands incorporate more realistic, more relatable models, the isolation caused by such exclusive brands becomes more apparent. All things considered, I am the target market for most designer houses—female, well-off, somewhat slender and white. If I feel isolated and turned off by their hyper-exclusive positioning, how do they expect to survive long term? What person of color is going to walk into their stores and feel accepted?

Christian Siriano’s bold move by featuring diverse models was greeted with applause and has now set the bar for other designer brands. Now, it’s their term to meet our expectations. And those who don’t should expect to fall quickly.

Written by Julia Sawchak

Photos as marked

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