How Fashion Brands Can Achieve Inclusion Through Design

Fashion is about representing your identity, in whatever way that manifests. The challenge, for some, is that the clothes on the shelves don’t always adequately reflect them.

This is especially true within minority groups, plus-size consumers, transgender communities and those who simply don’t align with gender stereotypes. Too frequently, fashion for these groups is about form fitting into pre-set normative standards. However, fitting into those standards leads to a constant dialogue of subtle self-hate.

Several celebrities have helped bring these underserved communities to the forefront and break through stereotypes. Lizzo, for example, wears what she wants at every size, not what others think she should. She works out and eats healthy, even though some of those who comment on her Instagram page think otherwise. Her story particularly resonates with me, as I am a cyclist who has biked 545 miles four times from San Francisco to Los Angeles but certainly don’t look like a chiseled athlete.

And therein lies the issue. Many athletic women and men who don’t look like Michael Phelps or Simone Biles are not represented by fitness apparel models. In addition, these consumers can’t find athletic wear in their sizes. This leads these audiences to think of shopping itself as a traumatic experience, one that diminishes their confidence rather than empowering them. In addition, this lack of body representation seems to suggest the confines of what being an athlete is and isn’t, limiting who can be included based on body type alone.

Some brands are shifting to ensure marginalized communities are better represented. Last week, the athletic apparel company Superfit Hero shifted entirely to phase out their smaller sizes and extend through 7X, thereby offering plus-size fitness apparel only. The brand didn’t simply offer a larger range of sizes but instead decided to focus more wholeheartedly on the needs of an underserved community.

Diversity of body types has been linked to the LGBTQ+ community as Jonny Cota, Amazon Prime Video’s Making the Cut winner, reflected that “a fundamental aspect of ‘queer power’ is body positivity and appreciating all bodies.” Some brands are running strong in this direction.

Nik Kacy designs a luxury footwear brand that is gender-free, offering designs that help individuals across the entire gender spectrum more effectively express themselves. As clothing is a way of helping some trans people address gender dysmorphia, the need for clothing that adequately reflects their own identity is critically important.

Last but certainly not least, fashion still has a long way to go in offering options for racially diverse communities. This past summer, some brands felt they were solving the problem by serving up Black Lives Matter social posts without truly addressing the lack of Black models, designers, photographers and executive representation at the brands themselves.

The lack of diversity in fashion is on a par with a lack of inclusion when it comes to defining beauty in the consumer marketplace. The impact of this can be fully realized from visual representations that do the exact opposite. For example, in Black Is King, Beyoncé’s visual companion to her 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift, Queen B exalts Black culture and fashion by featuring independent Black designers from around the world as worn by Black singers, dancers, models and actors. What I found most poignant about the work was its power in shining a light on Black beauty, which drew focus to the lack of these visuals in many other mediums.

The reality is that these underserved communities are growing and stand to get only bigger as the years progress. The brands that authentically connect by offering fashion that tackles the needs of these groups will stand to win while the others will be running to catch up. Here’s to the future, and clothing that better represents all of our many identities.

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