Is Diversity in the Fashion Industry Enough?

A look back at the 2010’s biggest diversity milestones and what we need to learn for the new decade.

Dalton Drake
Dec 2 · 9 min read

The 2010s will undoubtedly go down in history as a decade that embraced significant change in diversity within the fashion industry. We saw the emergence of many unrepresented minority groups beginning to dip their toes in the pool of the mainstream, challenging the status quo of the once rigid and strictly cis-gendered, white, size zero fashion industry standard *shady cough* Victoria’s Secret for example.

With the old saying “fashion is a mirror of our time”, it is important to note the factors that may have driven consumers to demand a more inclusive industry. These include the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, fourth wave feminism, and the politically conscious, or “woke”, Generation Z coming of age.

With all these groundbreaking milestones, real change is yet to occur. In the fore coming decade, there are things we as a society must understand before we can achieve a genuinely diverse, inclusive fashion industry.

Looking back through the last ten years, the 2010’s gave way to many monumental firsts for people of color in the fashion industry. Talented designers like Oliver Rousteing and Virgil Abloh became the first black creative directors to take over for Balmain and Louis Vuitton menswear, redefining the image of these traditional French fashion houses for today’s more modern, youthful, and urban consumer.

Halima Aden, the first hijab-wearing model, stormed the runway in 2017, representing the Muslim community by walking for brands like Yeezy, Max Mara, and Alberta Ferretti. She paved the way even more when she became the first model to wear a hijab in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Edward Enninful, after an already impressive career at i-D and Vogue Italia, broke ground in April 2017 by becoming the first black editor in chief for British Vogue, envisioning and striving towards a more diverse image for the publication.

Tyler Mitchell, at only 23 years old, became the youngest and the first black photographer to shoot a cover of Vogue in the magazine’s entire 125 year history. Not to mention he shot the most influential woman in modern-day music history, Beyoncé. He states, “For so long, black people have been considered things. We’ve been thingified physically, sexually, emotionally. With my work I’m looking to revitalize and elevate the black body.”

The queer community made an impactful mark on the decade as well. Though representation for the transgender community is a slow, uphill battle, we cannot ignore the major leaps they have made towards working in the high fashion industry.

Models like Theodora ‘Teddy’ Quinlivan became the first openly trans woman to be the face of Chanel beauty in 2019, and Valentina Sampaio made history by being the first trans model to walk for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Yes, one of the very few progressive steps the company has made for diversity.

Trans actresses and models Hunter Schafer and India Moore sparked a fire in both the entertainment and fashion industry during the latter part of the decade, modeling for brands like Dior, Gucci, Miu Miu, Maison Margiela, Rick Owens and more. With their runway success, both went on to star in critically acclaimed tv shows, India in Pose and Hunter in Euphoria, which greatly ignited both their popularity amongst a mainstream audience.

From the multi-Emmy winning show Rupaul’s Drag Race, drag superstars Violet Chachki, Miss Fame, and Aquaria bursted into the high fashion scene after immediate success on the show. If you haven’t seen them sitting front row at some of the most anticipated runway shows of the season, you may have seen them actually walking for the likes of Moschino, Christian Cowan, and The Blonds.

With stunning portfolios and monumental milestones in their careers, these queens are bringing together the fluidity of gender with the world of high fashion. In 2018, Violet was the face of Prada’s Fall/Winter 2018 ad campaign, depicting the Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe. Miss Fame became the first drag queen to be in an editorial shoot for Vogue Germany, while Aquaria became the first drag brand ambassador for The SM. Violet and Aquaria even attended the 2019 Met Gala, arguably the biggest fashion event of the year, and made history as the first drag queens to do so.

Wherever you have seen them, these three queer artists are merging gender ambiguity and high fashion, proving that drag queens are fully capable of having success and being highly glamorous outside of their local gay bar.

The conversation about plus-sized representation in the fashion industry has been ongoing for quite a number of years. However, the rise of Ashley Graham propelled that conversation even more into the mainstream.

After the famous 2016 Sports Illustrated cover, with Ashley Graham and all her beautiful curves on full display, history was made with Graham being the first plus-sized model on the cover for the magazine. After this, the want and need from consumers for size diversity in the fashion industry became even more evident. Brands like 11 Honoré, Chromat, and designer Christian Siriano noticed this, building their brands with the core belief of dressing women of all shapes and sizes.

Ashley Graham instantly became a household name, and more importantly continues to be an advocate for curvy and plus-sized women being represented in the media and fashion industry.

With all these great milestones in the battle for inclusivity within the industry, the world still seemed to be hungry for more. Consumers were looking for a brand that would take the idea of diversity to new levels that no one else had reached thus far. And that’s when she came and conquered. One name… Rihanna.

After building her makeup empire, Fenty Beauty, and establishing herself to be a powerful businesswoman, Rihanna took a huge step forward and created her high fashion brand, Fenty. History was made when Rihanna become the first woman and first person of color to create a brand under the largest luxury fashion company LVMH, who owns the likes of Dior, Givenchy, Fendi, and Celine. Previous to Fenty joining the family, LVMH had not signed with a fashion brand since 1987 with Christian Lacroix.

As a grand finale to close out the decade, Rihanna and her team orchestrated a complete choreographed show for her 2019 SavageXFenty lingerie line that would immediately become the epitome of what an inclusive brand should look like.

Of course the usual top models were there, including Bella Hadid, Gigi Hadid, and Cara Delevingne. However, the real stars of the show were every model that has never, or very little, been represented in the fashion industry, especially in the lingerie business. Rihanna failed to leave no one out, making sure every person that was watching at home could find a model that they could easily identify with. Models of every shade range from a variety of ethnic backgrounds were in the show, from size zero to size twenty eight, models that identify from every position on the gender and sexuality spectrum, including trans models like Laverne Cox, and even people with visible disabilities were dressed in all SavageX lingerie.

“I’m looking for unique characteristics in people that aren’t usually highlighted in the world of fashion as it pertains to lingerie and sexy — what society sees as sexy.” -Rihanna

Star-studded performances, intense dance breakdowns, and a modern, cool-girl street aesthetic, Rihanna’s SavageX show was a huge “fuck you” towards Victoria’s Secret, proving that everyday, real-looking people can and will rule the fashion industry from here on out.

With the emergence and ultimate rise of Rihanna and her fashion and cosmetic empire, many other brands noticed Rihanna’s tremendous success and jumped on the bandwagon of the diversity train. However, moving into a new decade, there are things that certain brands need to understand in order to truly represent under-represented minority groups, and that is the difference between diversity and inclusivity.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America and PVH Corporation described diversity as the “measure of difference” amongst the workplace or in an industry. However, inclusion is described as an environment where all types of people feel comfortable expressing themselves as well as their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions, contributing their best work to further the company or industry they are in.

“It is often assumed that diversity is enough, however, without inclusion, diversity is ineffective.”

To expand on this idea, many brands in the fashion industry feel that by adding three black models amongst a sea of sixty other white models in their runway show is being inclusive. Or a designer believing they have done their part in the fight for diversity by including a size sixteen model in their latest ad campaign, but refusing to dress plus-size women for red carpet events. Whatever the case may be, these types of perfunctory actions are continuously ongoing in the industry, and often these brands get immense amount of praise from consumers, critics, and the general public, with people believing this is what genuine inclusion looks like.

Inclusivity should not feel like a social responsibility or moral obligation. It should not be forced, nor should it be done with the belief that diversity and inclusion is a trend. Elle Germany was under great fire this year, when in an attempt to highlight strong black models in the industry, titled their article “Black is Back”, insinuating that racial diversity is just a mere trend or a passing fad. Supermodel Naomi Campbell even commented on this controversy by stating, “Your mistake it is highly insulting in every way. I’ve said countless of times we are not a TREND. We are here to STAY.”

Far too often do we see brands performing acts that can be interpreted as tokenism, capitalizing and ultimately profiting off of underrepresented models, giving off the false appearance of genuine equality and meaningful change. Coming into the 2020’s, brands need to understand that the inclusion of minority groups, including POC, queer, or plus-sized individuals, is not a trend with a brief lifespan.

As fashion often reflects the conditions of our society, the state of our world and time can also affect the behavior of consumers. With a more socially and environmentally conscious generation Z coming of age, as well as Millennials maturing and advancing in life, the demand amongst consumers for more transparency within fashion brands is substantially growing. People want to know more about brands than ever before, demanding that they are not left in complete secrecy. People want to know a brand’s core values, their ethical beliefs, and exactly how and where their products are made.

“This constant battle between diversity and inclusivity occurs at the same time that so summers are starting to be more deliberate about what they buy.”

This in return leads to a sense of trust and the development of a loyal relationship between a company and customer. Because of the demand for transparency, it is essential for brands to be genuinely inclusive. They need to shift away from the bare minimum attempts at being diverse, and instead move towards a radically inclusive brand imagery as their core ethical belief.

The 2010s took many great leaps towards the uphill battle of diversity in the fashion industry, however, diversity is just not enough. Genuine inclusion of people of color, the queer community, plus-size models and so on is a vital progression brands need to make as we enter a new decade. For so long, the industry has blocked out many minority groups, but as we move forward, the simple thing society must do is listen to the voices of those barely heard. Listen to OUR voices. For one day, little boys, girls, and others can look at a runway show or an ad campaign and see a model that they truly identify with. A model that won’t want to make them change their skin color, their hair texture, or their weight.

So to the fashion industry, a simple word of advice… just be more like Rihanna!

Dalton Drake

Written by

Fashion. Art. Culture.

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