Diversity. Inclusion.Body Positivity. BS?

It all sounds good, but how can we really ensure these words turn to action?

The CFDA, Council Of Fashion Designers Association announced in their newsletter, that their focus this year would be on diversity, sustainability, body positivity, and equality. Although the CFDA is certainly not the first to coin these terms as issues needing to be addressed, it is a great indication that fashion as a whole will begin to take these issues more seriously.

The question is how will brands and retailers respond to these issues. Will they use these terms as hashtags on Instagram campaigns or will the terms show up in headliners to create more engagement for articles with limited substance and catchphrases to reverberate into the echo chamber of media-trained redundancy? We hope the fashion and apparel industry really digs deep into their practices, facing ugly truths and implementing the necessary changes to help fashion evolve.

Diversity in Fashion

Diversity is a tough subject in every industry. It often incites opposing polarized emotions. Perhaps fear of change or fear of job loss. We do live in a time when fear is often used to discourage change and transformation. But the need for diversity is not just an issue of filling quotas and taking pity on underrepresented groups. It’s about building more capable teams.

In many corporate cultures, differences are not necessarily celebrated. Instead, mob mentality keeps a lot of groups from progressing with a “this is how we do things here” attitude. The issue with this is obvious if everyone thinks the same who can really be creative? Who will think outside of the box? And more importantly who can help avoid problematic situations? Research from McKinsey shows that the most ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform the least ethnically diverse companies. If your bottom line is your concern then diversity should be your solace.

Recall that H&M sales plummeted significantly after their faux pas.

H&M could have avoided these instances had their teams had been more culturally diverse. This misstep caused them earnings and customers.

More recently, the antics of D&G racially insensitive, stereotypical and tone deaf marketing campaign caused them to enrage the top luxury consumer demographic in the world. 7.6 million Chinese households purchased luxury goods. Chinese luxury consumers account for $7.4 billion in annual spending, representing almost a third of the global luxury market.

The “mistake” led to them canceling their runway show in China and irreparable damage with their customer base. Not to mention an unwarranted outburst one of the designers had with an Instagram user.

What do these two companies have in common? It’s not the ampersands that’s the problem, it’s the lack of inclusion and the level in which brands are out of touch with their consumers (not to mention racism). Harvard Business Review reports that diverse companies are 70% more likely to report that the firm captured a new market.

Decision makers, designers, advertisers, and marketers must bring representatives from the cultures they seek to market when creating for a specific group/culture/demographic. This will result in successful campaigns, more sales, and higher customer retention.

Representation In Fashion

Isn’t there already enough representation in fashion. Fashion has, after all, always been accepting of different sexual orientations of men, we have seen a rise of darker skinned models on the runway, Native American headdresses are no longer being used at the Victoria Secret’s shows and plus size women are in mainstream fashion magazines. Surely we have reached the pinnacle of progression? I think not. Representation and body positivity have to go a bit deeper. If not for the sake of modernizing and catching up with the global consumer, then simply for the sake of increasing your profits.

Representation is not about filling quotas, it’s about understanding the needs of the consumer from a consumer centricity standpoint. Customers now want to be represented in their own shopping processes. They want to been seen in ads, reflected in products and interact with people similar to them.

The Fenty Effect

In 2017 Rihanna released Fenty Beauty which had over 40 shades of makeup for various skin tones. Prior to Fenty many brands did not carry an array of shades for whatever reason, mainly a lack of understanding of the needs of their customers or perhaps a lack of interest in expanding into other demographics. Whatever the reason, Rihanna’s team saw a need in the market and fulfilled it. The results were astounding. “The Fenty Effect”(i.e., the chain reaction of brands launching more inclusive shade ranges in response to Fenty’s fanfare) has dramatically changed the beauty industry as a whole. CoverGirlMaybeline, and Dior, to name just a few, all now carry 40 shades of foundation.

Representation is the key to additional profits.

According to a 12inc report, when a consumer sees a photo from a person rather than a brand, they have a 4.5% higher chance of conversion. This number increases to 9.6% if they interact with the image. This is why influencer marketing works so well. People want to buy things from “real people”. Consumers are interested in interacting with people more similar to themselves. Brands need to understand the importance of representation in their strategies.

Body Positivity

Body positivity has become one of our most favorite phrases to repeat in fashion. We focus a lot on the plus size market, we constantly site that the average women are a size 14, which is still arbitrary since there are no such things and sizing standardization. There are articles praising plus size women and equal articles shaming plus-sized women, but at least the subject is getting coverage. The issue is a matter of representation. A study conducted by Mintel found that on average, women desire to see people like themselves in ads.

The majority of women are more inclined to purchase clothing if women who look like they are represented. Body positivity helps to create an equal representation for all sizes.

How can fashion support the body positive movement

Firstly, plus size is not the only market needing body positivity. The non-standard sizing market is a $22B industry that is hardly addressed. Focusing on plus size alone is not enough. Petite sizes, tall sizes, specialty sizing, disabled fashion, and others are rarely catered to but need equal representation. When it comes to profit, brands should realize that having a deep understanding of their consumers, and their bodies can help to push body positivity. Catering to specialty sizing through niche brands, inclusive sizing, and subsequent advertisements will help to push the body positivity movement forward. By catering to these demographics and allowing them to participate in the fashion process, we can help to encourage more body positivity. When it comes to body positivity we have a long way to go in order to educate and advocate for better relationships with our own self worth and our bodies. When haven’t scratched the surface on body positivity, but a lot of brands are pushing the envelope in making body positivity apart of the conversation. Hopefully this year we will see a big change in fashion.

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Jessica CouchComment