One model, Basjia Almaan, who walked in the finale, shared her thoughts on Instagram on the weekend:
“Whilst I’m incredibly proud of how hard I had to work to be on that runway stage, I’m pretty disappointed at how much of a process it was for space to be made for someone like myself,” she wrote.
“This show was not diverse, it was tokenistic, and even though it was wonderful to see a range of models of different ethnicities and colour, models of different ages and curve models, it was all still so palatable. Yes I’m a curve model but I’m still palatable, I’m a size 12-14, where were the bigger bodies? Where was the range in hair textures?”
Meanwhile, several people with disabilities took to the stage during the final show for PE Nation and Camilla respectively, including Paralympian Rheed McCracken and disability advocate and model Lisa Cox, who also worked as one of the disability consultants with AAFW in the months leading up to the show.
Unfortunately, the runway was covered in piles of confetti and both McCracken and Cox had difficulty navigating their way in their wheelchairs. In fact, Cox got stuck and designer Camilla Franks herself leapt up from the front row to help wheel her off.
While Cox has since expressed her overall positive experience with Camilla, AAFW and event organiser IMG, others within the disability community have accused the event of performative inclusion. Yesterday, the team at Camilla hit back at podcast account, So Dramatic:
“Fact check: 18 designers joined a group show we didn’t produce. In line with our values we requested models inclusive of shape, gender, size, age, ability and so much more. There was nothing on the runway at the rehearsal and it was to our surprise to see it covered in streamers upon the doors opening,” she said on Instagram.
“The set design was an external production decision that we were not a part of. If you’re going to write something for spurious headlines please be correctly informed. Shame on you for not celebrating an amazing moment and shame to any reputable publication that reposts this rubbish.”
However you view AAFW’s diversity and inclusion in the past week, it’s clear that good intentions aren’t enough and businesses need to make long-term efforts to ensure their values and actions truly align.
Here are practical tips and suggestions from industry experts on how businesses can do diversity better, from size and race to disability and age.
1. Diversity is not just for one season
Mariam Veiszadeh, advisory director, Diversity Council Australia: “Whilst I’ve certainly been impressed with this year’s Fashion Week and have noticed greater cultural and faith diversity across models featured in fashion advertisements more generally, we need to be mindful that diversity is not a one season trend – it can’t just be the newest fad. It can’t just be about who is walking the catwalk and what they are wearing. Our approach has to be more strategically uniform, across the entire supply chain to ensure it’s sustainable and not seen as tokenistic or inauthentic. Purpose-led fashion led labels like The Social Outfit are on the right track in this regard.
I remember a few years ago I was pleasantly surprised to see a woman in a headscarf featured in a Target ad, but I also recall it sparked outrage in some circles. I still know people who struggle to find the right shade of foundation in their skin tone without being forced to pay an arm and a leg, so clearly we still have a way to go but we are definitely headed in the right trajectory.”
2. Consult people with lived experiences
Matthew Skerritt, founder, adaptive fashion retailer, EveryHuman: “I do really commend AAFW, PE Nation & Camilla for acknowledging that there needs to be change and giving a platform for greater representation of people with disabilities – it’s a huge shift in the right direction.
I understand there were complications that arose during the show and it would have been challenging for the models, viewers and brands.
In my opinion, for our community to be truly inclusive, we need to design so people don’t have to adapt to their surroundings, but their surroundings adapt to them. When EveryHuman partnered with Melbourne Fashion Week in 2020, we had a disability consultant, who is entirely led by people with lived experience, alongside us the whole journey. They guided the event set up, to make sure that considerations such as show floor and change rooms were all accessible.
Ultimately, change happens from conversation and the fact we are talking about it means the sector can learn from past experience.”
3. Want to action change? Go to the root of the problem
Peta Granger, retail consultant and former director of Lush: “If companies want to contribute and campaign more broadly to create a more diverse and inclusive society, they need to think about what is blocking progress in that area. It’s not about turning up at a parade or posting on social media, it’s about getting to the root cause of an issue and affecting systemic change.
This often means that laws need to change, government funding increases, power structures represent diverse voices, and most importantly, public opinion needs to shift. There are many expert not-for-profit organisations like GetUp! and Australian Progress who can advise and support your campaigning strategies and efforts. Reflect on your shared values, the opportunities your influence provides and together investigate ways you can give your platforms and support to experts and those with lived experience to create impact.”
4. To ensure true size and age diversity, consider how you market to customers
Natalie Angel, style expert, influencer: “Fashion marketing teams need to rethink how they market to women of every size and age if they want to boost their sales.
What they should really be focusing on is: ‘What do women need to know about the garments in our collection? How can we make women feel welcome in our brand?’
In 2021, fashion brands need to include age, ethnic and size diversity in their campaign shoots and social media advertising – they should include a 50-year old goddess and a 20-year old goddess, include a variety of body shapes and sizes as well as skin colour.
Inclusive marketing is more important than ever among today’s consumers. My advice to marketing managers is to analyse the data they collect. Most retailers ask their customers for their date of birth when they complete a purchase, so they should have a look at the age range of their customers as well. I can guarantee the average age is not 22, so why is there a 22-year old model in their campaign?”
5. To be a truly accessible fashion brand, design appropriately
Gina Kingston, stylist for people with disabilities: “Fashion is not truly inclusive unless garments have been designed for people with disabilities in mind. There are changes that brands can make so that clothing can be more accessible to people with a disability without affecting their current consumers. These include:
- Replacing zips and buttons with magnetic or velcro closures to make them easier for people to open and close which is great for those with arthritis or incontinence;
- Avoiding textures, seams and patch pockets on the backs of jeans, trousers and skirts and replacing them with prints that achieve a similar look but reduce the likelihood that people with limited mobility will get pressure sores; and
- Having wide neck openings in tops that can be closed after the garment is put on that will enable people with limited shoulder mobility to wear more clothes.
6. Educate yourself and do the work
Charlee Fraser, Indigenous model: “It’s not about just using Black models or hiring Black workers in your business. As a brand, get educated and educate your employees. Find out more about the land that you’re on and get your employees to go to workshops together or seminars or panel discussions. Rather than just hiring Balck people and putting them in campaigns, learn about them as well.”
7. How to respond if it goes wrong
Phoebe Netto, Pure PR: “The runway controversy is a perfect example of how good intentions can turn sour if the execution is poor. The individual designers may not ultimately have been responsible for the design of the runway – since multiple brands were using the same space – but they still should have been aware of the brand risks and ensured it was designed accordingly.
“The brands involved should have responded immediately to the outrage with genuine remorse. In situations like these, defensiveness, denial or downplaying the situation is never the right move. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve done anything wrong, it’s still important to show empathy and acknowledge that people are upset.
For example, explaining that you are disappointed that the event organisers made that error, but that you are so pleased to have been in a position to demonstrate diversity and to encourage inclusivity. Then you have a more receptive audience and can explain that this was certainly not the first time your label has been intentional in representing a more diverse range of people, and that there was actually a lot of consideration given to engage people with disabilities in the planning process.
“This is important in reassuring people, including keyboard warriors, that you are not a fashion label that has suddenly become vocal about a topical social justice or diversity issue with no prior interest in similar causes. Rather, these are values that were predetermined and long-standing for the brand. In other words, this is not inauthentic virtue signalling or tokenstic PR.
“It’s easy for retailers to shy away from making inclusive decisions for fear of repercussions such as these. But it’s important for retailers – especially those in the fashion space – to brave up and do it anyway. And if it feels like you are ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’, could you pick the risk with the most helpful outcome and use your platform to benefit others?
“Retailers have a platform to do a lot of good, which is ultimately what these retailers were intending. They were taking the opportunity to give better representation for wheelchair users, in a space where they’ve typically been excluded. But next time, perhaps less of the shredded paper, and more focus on true accessibility.”