The fashion industry is slowly changing to be more inclusive. Ethnic apparel is being designed and marketed for the mainstream, while designers for the industry leaders are including ethnic diversity and plus-sized models in their runway shows, as seen within NYFW 2016. It’s an exciting time for the fashion industry and consumers alike, and many fighting for diversity and equality say that it is owing heavily to the power of social media.
What is the Catalyst?
According to Brian Beitler, the CMO of Lane Bryant, a lot of what is driving this positive shift to inclusivity is social media. Indeed this makes a lot of sense. Before the rise of social media, the majority of the fashion and beauty discussion was left in the hands of mainstream media, which invested in shaping and selling us a particular construction of beauty. This was thin, even though the majority of the consumer market that brands are supposed to be selling to do not meet this “ideal,” as 67% of American women are size 14 or larger. The result was a frustrated consumer populous that not only never saw themselves represented in the media, but found themselves underserved in clothing stores that did not cater to plus-sized women.
However, as social media began to take form and then explode in popularity, new voices and body-positive messages began to dominate the conversation. Plus-sized fashion bloggers entered the scene, online magazines added their many voices to the discussion, and campaigns blew up Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. The conversation continues today, with the encouraging benefit that although seeing results to this dialogue have been slow, they have at least been steady. We are now finally starting to see a mainstream shift because of the way social media is empowering.
Doing our Part
Regardless of what traditional media has told us for years, in the end we are the ones with the money and therefore it is up to us whether we choose to buy into a branded message or not. If we demand fashion that is more inclusive and make our voices heard, we open up the opportunity for brands to comply. Beitler, who spoke on a panel at Refinery29’s ‘The Every Beautiful Body Symposium,’ encouraged those in attendance to “amplify the brands and companies that are stepping forward […] so that they’ll step again.” There are many companies that embrace all body sizes, such as Aerie and Modcloth, but there are also online fashion brands like Peter Hahn who have a plus-size section made to be a strong focus of their website. As Beitler suggests, we can show support to the brands that are taking that step forward, which in turn helps them to take another step and hopefully will encourage other brands to begin stepping as well.
These might be only baby steps at this point, but it’s nevertheless positive and exciting to see a social mindset changing the concept of beauty. This has been a slow shift towards inclusivity within an industry that has for so long been so exclusive and alienating. Time will tell where it goes from here, but so far it is looking like a brighter, more beautiful future.