Catwalk vs community

Sally Mu calls out the leaders of the fashion world on their lack of diversity

26th October 2015
Advertisements are the mediums which have the ability to influence all of us, and our daily fashion choices. It is also fair to say that  these mediums shape the world’s fashion industry. A major observation of the fashion world is the fact that western models  are frequently favoured, and as such, our ideal standard of beauty is framed around ambassadors like Cara Delevingne, Miranda Kerr, Jourdan Dunn and Naomi Campbell.

Recently however, more and more Orient faces can be identified within the image driven industry that is fashion - on the runway, in ad campaigns and in fashion shows for major designer and high-street brands like Louis Vuitton, H&M and Victoria’s Secret. Sadly, it is unlikely the names of these models would first spring to mind when considering which women form the forefront of high fashion in 2015.

I unashamedly love fashion and appreciate that the fashion world can bring so much for everyone, yet it is continually the case that western models dominate the fashion industry whilst other ethnic backgrounds take a step back. Indeed, being an ethnic minority model can make it very hard to progress in today’s mainstream fashion industry. This can be seen as part of a larger problem, where western mass media perpetually promotes unequal representation through the discourse of the ‘token Asian’, in order to bypass accusations of discrimination. This can be witnessed through the percentage of Orient models at events such as this year’s New York fashion week, which was lower than 10%. Even worse, it wasn’t until September 2011 that Vogue China actually featured Chinese models on their front page, which has held its space on China’s newsstands since 2005.

“Discrimination is a symptom of ignorance, and the marginalization of any group within society is unforgivable”

The fashion industry, like any industry, must persistently be criticised: it can always do more for minorities. From fashion editors, designers and casting directors for the shows, this industry has the power to shape the discourse of image obsession and the fetishisation of western beauty vs race. As a member of such an underrepresented group of people I feel frustrated when both my passion for fashion and appreciation of equality seem so difficult to catch under the same umbrella. Seemingly, this feeling of mine is not isolated. Many other members of different ethnic minorities repeatedly voice the same frustration.

Stepping into the fashion world and being highly exposed to the intensive media spotlight which surrounds them, ethnic minority models persistently receive criticism and suffer many disadvantages. It is clear that this model of exclusion vs inclusion doesn’t deter ambitious Orient models, as thousands still aspire to become high fashion models. This is crucial in working towards change.

With regards to racial equality, I clearly am all for inclusion. Discrimination is a symptom of ignorance, and the marginalization of any group within a society is unforgivable, whether pre-meditated or not. At the end of the day, fashion businesses want to appeal to a bigger and increasingly global market, and if you’re marketing a world multinational brand why not start by reflecting the world’s diversity?

I think fashion designers should strive to create fashion for everyone as their basic job requirement is to be creative. This should act as a challenge to the world’s biggest designers to explore the beauty of diversity and make the fashion world more inclusive.

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