The Diversity Agenda

Maliha Shoaib, BA English and World Philosophies

Representation matters. A statement passionately declared by our generation. Young people see diverse representation within the fashion industry as integral: diversity is demanded as socio-political awareness rises, the population continues to both become more diverse, and recognise minority groups. Modern ‘call-out’ culture via social media means we aren’t afraid to publically criticise brands who fail to be inclusive. New marketing schemes recognise this increase in accountability and newfound demand for diversity, manipulating a movement towards inclusivity for the sake of corporate growth and popularity in the media. But should we support diversity in any form, regardless of authentic intent?

Diversity is treated as a means to an end – to gain publicity and attention. With the increase in models with wider shade ranges, advertisements championing the LGBTQ+ community and monopolising on pride, and slogan t-shirts promoting social justice (though, ironically, made in sweat-shops), diversity marketing has become a quick fix for brands to prove that they are socially and politically aware – that they’re “woke”.

And it works: recent studies show that 37 per cent of LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to support a brand based on its superficial support of minority groups. and Trends Editor Nicola Kemp, highlights “peaks in engagement where a diverse cast was shown” in advertisements by Aerie, ASOS, and H&M. Minority groups flock to support these brands because diversity in campaigns broadcasts the idea that this product is for them – that they fit with society’s ideas of the standard target market; that they fit within society’s ideas of “normal”. Furthermore, minority groups and allies who see diversity in advertisements are more likely to support a brand because they see them as progressive, often naively believing that these corporations care about social justice. Diversity becomes a buzzword used to tick boxes – a numbers game that profits off the desperation for cultural acceptance and representation from minority groups. And so the cycle continues: the superficial tokenisation of minority groups becomes a fleeting popular trend: a gimmick amongst marketing experts that exploits our hunger for inclusion.

“Diversity is not a supply-in-demand commodity; people are not products that should be used as a marketing ploy.”

Tokenisation is often equally as diminishing as exclusion. In an ideal world, diversity would come naturally and wouldn’t be thought of as a sweeping political statement. Fashion writer, Molly Chinner says, “the day a respected fashion house send out a cast of fully integrated minorities without making a political or creative statement through it, is the day diversity is truly here to stay”. Diversity should not be used as a ‘convenient marketing tool’, as Rihanna once critiqued, but rather an ethically necessary and long overdue subversion of the exclusionary nature of the fashion industry. Diversity is not a supply-in-demand commodity. People are not products to be used as a marketing ploy.

However, as consumers we must support diversity in all its forms – celebrating these “small wins” and incessantly promoting inclusion and representation in the fashion industry whilst remaining ever-critical of the exclusionary foundations of the fashion industry and acting to dismantle them. Ultimately, the inherently liberating effects of diverse representation in the fashion industry outweigh the morally dubious and often inauthentic intentions of fashion brands. Only through our support for diversity may we see change, as we look to a future where diversity becomes essential to the values of the industry as a whole. Only then can the act of inclusion – the diversity agenda – become truly sustainable.

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Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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