Inclusiveness, diversity in the fashion industry

By Elana Kopelman

From a gritty thrift boutique in Spring Garden to national chic fashion brands, diversity is becoming the thing, according to Philadelphia fashionistas.

Companies are making more of an effort to merchandise clothing that suits diverse clienteles and to employ models of all sizes, colors, and genders.

“Fashion is for everybody,” said Fontaine Gutierrez, a young employee at the Wardrobe Boutique, a nonprofit thrift store in Philadelphia.

“For too long, the fashion industry has not been inclusive,” said Melissa D’Agostino, a silk-printing company owner.

With the rise of social media connecting the world, the possibility exists for diverse model casting and all-embracing clothing.

D’Agostino said that while big brands tend to be superficial and convey the message that customers are not good enough, small companies are the heart of fashion and have the potential to influence the bigger industry.

For example, big retail stores cut off sizes and only choose specific styles of clothing to sell, according to Jen Travaglini, manager of Jr. League Thrift Shop in Ardmore. In contrast, small businesses, specifically thrift stores, cater to everyone. Thrift stores sell everything donated that is in good quality. They do not segregate plus sizes or particular styles, she said.

“Style is not to have a single definition,” said D’Agostino. Neither should body types, said Susan Koger, the CEO of ModCloth, an online fashion store that prioritizes community.

“It’s kind of crazy the amount of photoshopping that happens in mainstream fashion,” said Koger. All women are expected to have long necks, big hips, slim waists, and big breasts, she said. Koger shows the natural beauty of people by not photoshopping the body shapes of the models in the images on her website.

“It makes sense to me to show how things truly fit and how woman’s bodies actually are,” Koger said.

Additionally, ModCloth sells a wide range of sizes, ranging from XXS to 4X. “We strive to sell as much as possible in a full range of sizes and silhouettes on both ends of the spectrum,” Koger said.

So, how do we increase diversity in fashion even more? Education and awareness of these issues, said D’Agostino. Consumers must learn to separate exclusive and discriminatory companies from those that are inclusive, she said.

“For too long, the fashion industry has not been inclusive,” said Melissa D’Agostino, owner of a silk-printing company. Photo provided by D’Agostino.

“Our job,” D’Agostino said, “is to decipher what is genuine from what is not.” Fortunately, the fashion industry is becoming a platform for inclusiveness, which was formerly “superficial” and “just for publicity,” said D’Agostino.

For example, transgender models in fashion magazines have risen in popularity since 2015, according to Vogue Magazine. Many transgendered persons have followed Caitlyn Jenner’s footsteps, such as Andreja Pejic, the first trans model in Vogue Magazine, and Hari Nef, the first trans woman in IMG Modeling Agency.

In addition, ModCloth “makes sure customers can turn to [its] website to find people who look like they do” in terms of body shape, height, and skin color, said Koger.

“Of course we can’t be everything to everyone,” she said, but ModCloth strives to suit its “diverse customer base.”

Despite the rise in models of all races and ethnic groups, Model Ebonee Davis believes that the fashion industry has a long way to go and that diversity has not yet been achieved.

“Inclusion doesn’t just mean one token black model. I don’t want to be hired so I can fill an HR box. I want to be hired for my unique contribution to the industry,” she told Harper’s Bazaar.

“Fashion should be used to empower people rather than bring them down,” Gutierrez said. Instead of being used to reveal differences in appearance or class, clothing gives people the opportunity to transcend those differences, she says.

Along with racial diversity, many boutiques are striving to be economically diverse.

For example, thrift stores allow expensive clothing to be more accessible, which enables people to rise above their class. Travaglini said, “You can attain high fashion without the high expense.”

In addition, as the trendsetters of today, the younger generations, especially Generation Z, are more resourceful when it comes to fashion, she said. They are more willing to shop at several different types of stores, including thrift shops, in order to creatively put together styles.

Along with this creativity, younger generations are more flexible and accepting when it comes to differences such as gender and size, Travaglini said. In the future, inclusiveness will become even more widespread, in part due to the internet.

“The internet enables us to share ideas and to overcome social injustice” in fashion, D’Agostino said. “Our individual voices and opinions are the future.”


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