Fashion Industry Embraces Diversity

By Sabrina Samone

The message is that there is beauty in difference and in the unexpected; indeed there is beauty in what was once considered the opposite. Contrary to what we have witnessed in the past month in American politics; Trump’s Tweets against Transgender people and his most recent support and defense of hate groups like the KKK, and Nazi’s, the fashion industry is the one medium, unlike film and music, that is giving a voice to diversity.

New Zealand Fashion Week is just days away and diversity is the theme. There is a call from big name Kiwi designers for diversity at this year’s model casting calls.¹ “This year we are getting requests from designers like Zambesi and Huffer for diversity, which is amazing,” Andrea Plowright from 62 Models told says. “Many fashion-forward designers want to see models who are Asian, black, Indian, transgender, mature etc., which I think is fantastic! There are no limits and no boundaries, which is wonderful to see and be involved in. We live in a global world and we all want to see equality and fairness.”

”If there is a star of this trend it will be in the form of beautiful transgender model Manahou Mackay, 18, who is picked to light up the catwalk for a number of designers.“  Fashion Week will be her moment to break into the industry big time,” said Plowright. In March, New York-based Australian transgender supermodel Andreja Pejic walked for Smith & Caughey’s in Auckland and left an impression on Mackay. “It was a major modelling moment for me meeting Andreja, she is an inspiration to me in so many ways,” Mackay said. “I’d love to use modelling as a way to travel and see the world. I’d also like to help people view transgender people as just normal. “Transgender is not the classic porn-star Barbie and not the drag-queen look. We’re just normal humans. And we do not need to be sexualized to be understood and accepted.”

Lauri Watt and Manahou MacKay.  New Zealand Fashion Week founder and director Dame Pieter Stewart says, “Long gone are the days where models are typecast to fit a certain, now-outdated standard. They are as unique as the many different designers and their collections showcased at the event. Fashion is about variety and diversity, and New Zealand Fashion Week is the platform that encompasses all of this.” Other models who break the traditional look this year could include Fiona Xu, who has shot for Harman Grubisa and Kate Sylvester; Sophia Frankish, a universal favorite; Lincoln Van Vught; Grace Huan, who is also a dancer; Lauri Watt and Horace Lee.

Recently at a New York Fashion show, Reshma Quereshi. A 19-year-old Indian woman whose vile excuse for a brother-in-law, flung acid in her face two years ago. She bears the scars, and they’re severe (she lost one eye), but she is beautiful, not least because of her strong spirit, and she became the start of the show.

Quereshi’s presence was guaranteed to secure headlines for the Mumbai-based designer Archana Kochhar, as well as help spread awareness about these venal cowardly attacks which happen more often than they should. But it also reflected a growing acceptance, in the Fashion industry and beyond, for a much broader definition of what’s considered beautiful today.

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Instagram archanakochharofficial

The production company that staged Kochhar’s show, FTL Moda, aims to introduce major diversity to the runway. Last season they cast Brisbane model Madeline Stuart, who has Down syndrome, in her second NYFW show. She looked wonderful.

On the catwalks of the U.K., the tide may slowly be turning on what once was considered taboo in high fashion; women sizes 12 and up.

Model and body positivity campaigner Ashley Graham has debuted her own lingerie range at New York Fashion Week, a collection created for the sizes persistently ignored by designers.

As well as showcasing covetable undies, she brought a much-needed change of pace to the models we usually see on the catwalk. “Every woman in the show has a completely different shape and we wanted to show diversity of shape and ethnicity and that’s what curvy women are,” she told Time Magazine.

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Models on the catwalk for London’s Plus Size Fashion Week UK

In recent years there’s been an explosion of transgender models hitting the runways of the world. The struggle, like various occupations in society has been a hard fight, but unlike politics, film and music, the closet doors of the fashion world has been kicked down possibly to the last under-represented group, transgender. Many have reached what was once called super model status; Lea T, Ines-Loan Rau, Valentijn De Hingh, Laith Ashley, Aydian Dowling, and Andreja Pejic to name a few.² The most recent and most diverse among the growing list of transgender models, is plus-size model Shay Neary.

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The inclusive fashion brand Coverstory has made history this year,  by casting the first plus-size transgender model Shay Neary in its latest campaign. Coverstory has a history of showcasing a diverse range of models of various races and sizes, but with this latest casting the brand identified Neary as representing a sector of its customer base that needed to be seen.

When speaking with Refinery29, Neary³ reflected on how difficult it was for her to find a designer to dress her, and the trend of new, diverse models always seeming to be photographed naked.

“Oh my god, the truest statement ever. I’ve done maybe eight to 10 naked shoots. I’m a new trans-plus model to the scene, but I have yet to find any designer willing to actually dress me for a shoot or book me an actual high-profile gig. They’re not willing to get you clothes. They’re not willing to find a designer to get you clothes for a shoot. [Photographers say] ‘We’re not gonna hide your body, we want your raw body.’ Hmm, how about [designing] some clothing for my ‘raw body’?

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While representation, and equality has been fought in every aspect of trans lives, and careers, it’s the fashion industry that maybe setting the example of answering that call. For years transgender advocates have demanded, along with all minorities and feminist groups, to represent a broader diversity of consumers.  Though representation is far from equal, the fashion industry is leaps and bounds ahead of careers in business, politics, music and film.

This week America was rocked by the tragic death of a peaceful protester in Charlottesville, VA. While America has a conversation on tolerance and equality, the fashion industry may hold a clue to how to achieve that. Visibility, has been the mantra of the modern trans person. Visibility and representation in print, film,  and where we shop does matter. Representation is the constant subliminal message that there are other people like me, yet it’s also a reminder that everyone who isn’t like me, matter and exist as well.

Conversations on equality cannot take place, until we have completed the conversation on equal representation of all colors, sizes, genders, and sexualities. It’s when we can grow up in a society that shows truly, that people are beautiful and matter that we can finally see an end to transphobia, racism and the differences that separate us.

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  1.  New Zealand Fashion Week is Aug. 28th- Sept. 3 2017
  2. 50 Years of Transgender Models
  3. Refinery 29’s Story of Plus Size Transgender Model, Shay Neary
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