A Lack of Diversity: Exposing The Dark Issue At The Heart of The UK Fashion Industry
The fashion world is a platform that prides itself on its delineation of progressive inclusivity, global culture and idiosyncratic sartorialism.
Yet, there is one controversial area that still dominates headlines in the UK industry - Diversity. Diversity is still a matter of great social, political and economic concern for many inside and outside the fashion forum.
In August 2017, in the midst of British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman’s departure, supermodel Naomi Campbell publicly lambasted the fashion bible, after a staff photo depicted not a single black or ethnic minority member.
Even though the appointment of Edward Enninful as editor-in-chief of British Vogue is seen as a step to modify the image of his publication, from boardrooms to runways, it seems that the lack of minority representation is a recurring theme in the fashion debate.
Some of the fashion industry’s leading models are from black or ethnic backgrounds, however minority representation is still a looming issue.
So, what exactly are the factors at the root cause
of this rampant dilemma?
The evidence is overwhelming. In the past, designers have been in the spotlight for discriminating against minority models. Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci and Givenchy have all been in the firing line for lack of diversity on the runway.
British influencers such as Neelam Gill, Jourdan Dunn and Leomie Anderson have all added their voices to this conversation, about how an absence of black and coloured women at the fashion forefront has led to discontent, most notably the problem of ethnic ‘tokenism’.
‘Tokenism’ is an industry practice where designers seek to fill diversity quotas by hiring a small number of individuals from under-represented groups to allude to the appearance of equality in fashion. In the past, designers such as Calvin Klein and fashion powerhouse Dior have been publicly admonished for their open practice of tokenism.
Tokenism is definitely something that part-time model and personal trainer Naim Kamili can identify with since becoming a model. Mr Kamili, 23, says:
“In general, Black male models aren’t sought after as the Black race seems to be a major minority in the fashion industry. Mixed race is the compromise.”
Naim continues: “There is most definitely a uniform of what’s wanted, in terms of the modelling agencies. I mean, if a black person is chosen, it will be for a non-generalised casting.”
Mr Kamili, who graduated last year from Nottingham Trent University, is currently being represented by Eden Model Management and Precious Management, both based in London.
He tells me of his first exposure to a career in modelling.
“I was 20 or 21, and I took a year out of university searching for a placement. There was a lack of clarity so I decided to take any opportunities that came my way.
“One of my friends was doing a short film at the time, and asked me to get involved as they were planning to base the play around me. It was mad!
It was during the filming that Naim discovered the idea of embarking on a career in modelling as he got to meet with registered models whilst on set.
He continues: “It was as if there was a silent hand on my shoulder, pulling me in the direction of the modelling industry – I was very inspired.
“In terms of the diversity discussion, I feel like there are a lot more female black and minority ethnic models than male, however they have to either be so ridiculously good looking or look so different from your usual."
Naim adds that “in order to change the status of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals in the fashion industry, we must embrace our own creativity, just like we do in other fields such as music and entertainment.
London is generally seen as one of the biggest melting pots in the world, something many have referred to previously when addressing the fashion industry’s biggest issue, which is the lack of diversity.
So, in essence, the argument is that the diversity of the UK population should be reflected within the UK fashion industry.
Naim adds: “We need to be open-minded and all-inclusive from the top down. Let’s represent fashion in the realest way as fashion really is for everyone. If we’re doing fashion in the UK, it’s got to be balanced and even in terms of the models you see walking the runways and the people running the modelling agencies.”
Being more open-minded about diversity in fashion is something which Nottingham based model, dancer & stylist Ramario Chevoy hopes improves within the fashion industry.
Romario Chavoy, who has walked the runway in both London Men’s and Women’s past Fashion Weeks, explained that he has seen a shift in fashion attitudes from the casting agents that choose the models.
Mr Chevoy, 28, says: “In modern society, all shapes are being celebrated – if you’ve got an interesting look or face then you can do modelling. I feel like this is making fashion a lot more realistic as there’s a market for everyone.”
One brand that is challenging the norm is ‘House of iKons’, a fashion house which celebrates the new generation of global fashion talent, irrespective of their background.
They are primarily based in London, and have held fashion shows in Dubai, LA and the Philippines amongst others.
Savita Kaye, the CEO of House of iKons, has a goal for the brand to be seen as one of the “Most cultural, most diverse and most accepting” in the UK fashion industry.
She says: “The fashion industry holds probably a bigger responsibility than any other in society in terms of promoting positivity and encouraging others to love themselves more.
“Fashion shouldn’t discriminate in any form”.
“Our aim for our London Fashion Week S/S 2020 show is to ‘celebrate the individual in the here and now’.
“And our theme for this year is #Bringingsexyback.
For their show during LFW in September 2018, one of their designers decided to use robots to show off their collections on the runway, in a move that went viral, with over 300 million people watching globally.
“One of our main goals with House of iKons is to continuously challenge the fashion industry and the general public by what people see at our shows and on social media. As content is king and consumer is queen, we must always engage with our audience and keep the intrigue in their minds”, says Savita.
Savita, 45, is of South Asian descent, and tells me that she has had to battle with racial and gender discrimination since she started working in the fashion industry back in 2012.
“When I first arrived on the fashion scene, people used to ask me ‘As an Indian woman, why aren’t you doing Indian bridal shows?’
“Things like that used to hurt me but I just laugh it off now. People can talk about my race and my gender but don’t judge me on that, judge me purely on my work and how good or bad it is.”
After the success of her first ever fashion show, Salvita consistently worked to develop her now worldwide acclaimed fashion house, House of iKons, which launched in September 2014.
When people tell her she was always meant to work within fashion, her response is always “it was an accident.” It is this humble nature that has ensured House of iKons maintaining their level of success, with Ms Kaye constantly striving for bigger and better each year.
One of her designers has worked for celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Katy Perry and another has been signed up by Louis Vuitton.
To see her designers become successful in mainstream fashion is something that Savita celebrates and, to which she puts down to the ‘family environment’ at House of iKons, which encourages and promotes the work of talented designers so the world can see what they offer.
She says: “My designers and models all call me the “Mummy of the fashion industry” because I like to protect them and look after them in the best way by treating them fairly, equally and with respect. These are qualities that are needed for everyday life, however it seems to be lacking in some regards within the fashion industry.
“Although the diversity in our shows is slightly better than New York or Paris, there’s still a long way to go. We need to be more inclusive as fashion is for everyone regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.
She adds: “Let’s break the mould and represent modern Britain as the fashion industry is big enough for all of us to play in.”
The House of iKons London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 show runs from Saturday, 14 – Sunday, 15 September at Hilton London Metropole. Tickets for the show can be purchased here.