UK fashion still lacks diversity



Published on

Jul 28, 2021

Faced with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the fashion world is committed to change. But what about a year later? A new British study points out that “discrimination is ubiquitous in the fashion industry”. Decryption.


For this study, the Fashion Roundtable and All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fashion and Textiles think tanks surveyed more than 330 Britons working in the fashion industry. More than two thirds of them say they have been victims or witnesses of discrimination within the sector. Most of them are related to physical appearance (73.4%), followed by ethnicity (49.2%) and age (48.6%).

While this discrimination manifests itself in various ways, a large number of minority participants claim that they do not benefit from the same professional opportunities as some of their colleagues. “Some bosses have told me that I should work harder because I am of Chinese origin, that we don’t need as many things as the others since we don’t ask for them. The stereotype that wants that Asians are hardworking works against us because we are considered intellectuals, not very creative and not very sociable, and we do not tend to obtain management positions because we believe that we lack interpersonal skills, ”says one of them.

The phenomenon is even more marked with regard to blacks. Many have worked in hostile work environments, where they were made inappropriate comments about their physical appearance or insulted them. However, some manifestations of racism are more pernicious, according to a fashion lecturer. “As far as witnessing structural racism, I knew it was because of my skin color. It’s silent racism. So quiet. I can say the people holding me back were my people. colleagues with whom I got along well. You just have to deal with it, getting angry would defeat the goal, “he explains.

Business opportunities to seize

According to the study, the industry’s lack of diversity is also visible in catwalks, magazines and clothing stores. Almost nine out of ten respondents do not feel represented in advertising campaigns, shootings in fashion and on catwalks. Yet they are just waiting for that. More than 90% of participants say they are ready to financially support a brand if it is known to be inclusive.

The authors of the report identified two booming markets in which industry professionals should, according to them, position themselves to best meet consumer demands in terms of diversity: unisex fashion (or “gender fluid”) and that of “modest fashion”. If more and more brands now offer non-gendered clothing, they are still few to position themselves in the niche of “modest fashion”. More than 85% of Muslim women surveyed do not identify with mass distribution collections.

The industry should quickly address this issue as the “modest fashion” market is expected to reach $ 360 billion in 2023. But that will likely require a change in how it operates to get there, and the inclusion of more than professionals from the diversity of its ranks. “The market [de la mode modeste] is huge and there is so much room for creativity, but it is so difficult to talk about it in meetings or to tackle anti-Islamic rhetoric for fear of sounding like a sympathizer of terrorism. It’s as simple as that “, notes with bitterness a designer who wishes to remain anonymous.

And on the legislative side?

Many study participants (83%) believe that the UK government has a role to play in this shift in mindset, and should demand that the fashion industry make strong commitments to more inclusiveness. An opinion shared by journalist Lottie Jackson, who regularly collaborates with the think tank Fashion Roundtable.

“Creativity and legislative power are seen as separate spheres. They are, on the surface, seen as opposing forces. After all, why would a free and creative mind want to be constrained by the gibberish of legal texts?”, she emphasizes. “We have rarely stopped to consider the immense value that a collaborative and joint approach could bring to each of these areas – connecting policymakers to a £ 35bn industry in the UK.”

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