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Has the inclusivity movement become too tokenistic?

06.07.2018 Inclusivity : Marketing : Campaigns
#InYourOwnSkin by Missguided, UK #InYourOwnSkin by Missguided, UK

While celebrating a person's quirks is healthy, I wonder how many of fashion's inclusive campaigns are genuine, and how many are profit-driven?

Jessica Smith, Creative Researcher, LS:N Global

Amid fashion's prevalent inclusivity movement it's becoming hard to find a brand campaign that doesn't tout a cast of diverse, body-positive models. Now, brands are ramping things up further, with disabled models or those with varying skin conditions promoting their latest drops. There has been ASOS, which featured an amputee model in its activewear campaign, and Missguided and Les Girls Les Boys, whose campaigns celebrate the beauty of scars.

But is this documentation of individuals' so-called physical imperfections or disabilities becoming tokenistic? While celebrating a person's quirks as a backlash against unrealistic definitions of beauty is a healthy approach, I wonder how many of these inclusive campaigns are genuine, and how many are driven by the pursuit of profit?

For example, the disability market represents an annual disposable income of around $1.2 trillion (£907 billion, €1 trillion), according to the Return on Disability Group. With an estimated 1.3bn disabled people worldwide – a market the size of China – you can see why brands are recognising untapped sales potential.

However, the representation of diversity and inclusivity is not something that can just be wrapped up or embellished in a campaign. In my view, any advert that reflects the zeitgeist of our times is simply a convenient and non-committal gesture of what a better world might look like. But it doesn't tackle the real issues that exist in the fashion industry.

Designs such as Tommy Hilfiger's disability-friendly collection stand out as authentic, simply because they are considerate of the wearer.

Some initiatives have taken a step in the right direction and it's encouraging to see fashion labels champion previously under-served consumers with the creation of useful and assistive clothing. In 2017, Tommy Hilfiger debuted a collection featuring magnetic fastenings and leg openings to accommodate prosthetics, while ASOS has collaborated with Chloe Ball-Hopkins, a GB Paralympian in-training, to produce a tie-dye jumpsuit suitable to wheelchair users. Such brands stand out as authentic because they are simply considerate of the wearer.

But for brands wanting to promote inclusivity, there is a need to fully incorporate it into their business model. Bridgette Howard, founder of Washington DC-based beauty incubator Parlor West Ventures, advocates the idea of vertically integrated inclusivity arguing that, 'It’s about taking your customer base and reflecting them in the experience of the brand and in its DNA.'

She adds, 'What's your hiring process? When you bring in a team that are diverse, then you have a variety of opinions and that’s got to be reflected in all of the decision-making processes for the brand.'

Clearly, the implementation of diversity isn't a quick solve. Fashion brands wanting to be part of this movement to fuel change in the industry should consider a more holistic approach to inclusivity and diversity – an approach that will extend all the way from who they employ, to who they design for and the products they sell.

For more on how your brand can advance its approach to diversity, read our viewpoint with Bridgette Howard.

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