When heat transfer printing is used to create fashionable apparel items, the printer’s wax-based ink ribbons (which create the images imprinted on the garments) come in four colors — cyan, yellow, magenta, and black — to make just about any hue in the entire rainbow. Unfortunately, the wide array of colors we find printed on our trendy tops, graphic dresses, and statement scarves are not always echoed in a diverse base of fashion models and style influencers. And judging from New York Fashion Week 2018 recaps, we actually have a long way to go in terms of inclusivity on the runway.
It’s true that this industry has made great strides in recent years. More ad campaigns, fashion lookbooks, and runway presentations have featured women of color, trans models, plus models, and models with disabilities than in the past. Fashion brands have also taken steps to consider these demographics when creating collections, like with Target’s sensory-friendly Universal Thread line and gender-neutral clothing ranges from various companies. Last fall, the runways of NYFW 2017 and various magazine spreads were quite diverse. Every fashion week presentation included at least model of color, bringing the total percentage to 27.9% of NYFW models. Models of color also accounted for 30.4% of all Fall 2017 print ad appearances, thanks in large part to brands like Coach, Christian Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Saint Laurent, Gap, and Nordstrom.
But now, it looks as if the momentum has slowed — at least in some ways. In NYFW’s shows for fall 2018, racial diversity improved only 0.4% from the previous year. Still, New York Fashion Week ranked better in terms of racial diversity than fashion weeks in Milan, Paris, and London. Size inclusivity was at an all-time high during the spring 2018 shows, with 90 plus-size and curve models gracing the runways. But for the fall 2018 collections, only 26 plus-size and curve models were cast. While Torrid and Addition Elle — two lines completely devoted to the plus-sized customer — showed their spring lines back in September but did not show at the most recent NYFW, the downward trend is still disheartening for many in the industry. Transgender and non-binary model castings saw a small increase from Spring 2018 to Fall 2018, for a total of 33 models, but representation still has a long way to go.
Some influencers-turned-designers are taking it upon themselves to make a difference. Nicolette Mason, a well-known plus-sized blogger and founder of plus-size label Premme, spoke out at a recent SXSW panel discussion that touched on activism in the influencer community. She brought up the concept of inclusion riders and how fashion and beauty influencers can harness their power with brands to open the door for others.
Hilary Sloan, Director of Business Development for ShopStyle, also added that brands are missing out when they don’t make diversity a priority. Plus-sized influencers actually perform 43% better on the ShopStyle platform than the network as a whole, dispelling the notion that plus-sized women don’t sell products. Sloan explained that study data showed that ShopStyle’s diverse influencers performed just as well (or sometimes better) in terms of sale conversions on the platform.
Ultimately, that means brands are leaving a lot of money on the table when they don’t include diverse influencers in their collaborations or cast diverse models in their runway shows. One consumer might spend an average of $1,700 per year on apparel and related services, but customers are making moves to support brands that make an effort to embrace inclusivity and showcase models and influencers to whom they can relate. If fashion labels want to beat out the competition, they’ve got to keep up with the times.