Our World Wants Equality and Representation

Are you really what you wear? The fashion world is often portrayed as shallow and fanciful, but if it is, it’s only because it reflects our collective choices and desires. Our choices inform the movements of fashion and our desire for more strengthens the industry. We are not slaves to the fashion world, the fashion world is made in our image and if we look closely, we can see our reflection everywhere.

Our world wants more, more often

Fashion Week, as we know it, is dead. Traditionally, Fashion Week – most notably, in New York, London, Paris and Milan – is a fashion industry event where big name designers display their latest collections in a runway show for buyers and the media and then a whole six months passes before the various collections are available in stores. The half-year delay was intended to allow the media and buyers a chance to preview the clothes designed for the season to come.

However, in the age of social media and live streaming from the runway, the six-month delay no longer makes sense or cents. Indoctrinated by the immediacy of online shopping, consumers want what they see when they see it. And designers want to give it to them in order to prevent being leapfrogged by high street retailers such as Zara and H&M who are keen to copy their designs and sell them at a fraction of the cost.

Premium labels such as Tom Ford and Burberry are adapting their rollout to reflect this shift, with their aim to produce collections immediately for sale. Other fashion houses such as Hunter, Wes Gordon and Rebecca Taylor have abandoned the fashion week format altogether. Tellingly, designer Misha Nonoo cancelled her show opting for an Instagram debut instead and as a result enjoyed 80% growth in website traffic.

Are you really what you wear? The fashion world is often portrayed as shallow and fanciful, but if it is, it’s only because it reflects our collective choices and desires.

Our World Wants Equality and Representation

Think of the emergence of transgender models like Andreja Pejić, Geena Rocero and Laith Ashley De La Cruz and it is clear that fashion has changed from its 1990s heyday which birthed the word “supermodel” expressly to describe impossibly beautiful creatures such as Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. Impossibly beautiful but stereotypically so, the supermodels of the 1990s did not challenge gender conformity or the impossible expectations placed upon women. If anything, they simply confirmed the status quo and the continued othering – to various degrees – of those who fall short.

“The way we think and speak of gender is changing, and fashion is only just reflecting that,” says writer and trend analyst Sandiso Ngubane. The same can be said for race and the complexity of true representation devoid of racial fetishism. In South Africa, this issue is particularly layered and pertinent given the reality that black people, despite being the majority, are underrepresented in fashion much like western countries where black people are the minority.

Globally, black models rarely make the cover of international glossy magazines, despite the prominence of the likes of Joan Smalls, Chanel Iman and Jordan Dunn. However, locally there has been a visible shift to represent the reality of the makeup of the country.

The Jet lingerie campaign, known as #JetLoveYourself includes women of all races, shapes and sizes and affirms their common beauty while celebrating their unique differences. Earning gushing feedback from social media, the campaign is a product of the knock-on effect of a global movement buoyed by the resurgence of feminism, which tries to affirm self-acceptance and the varied manifestations of the female form.

With the domino-like demise of so-called “lad mags” such as FHM and Zoo due in part to the proliferation of explicit images of women freely available on the internet, an unlikely yet promising change has taken shape. This year, Ashley Graham became the first plus-size model to appear on the cover of the iconic Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Invoking a dizzying furore on social media, this debut echoes the progress of popular media to represent women as they are, and more than that, to affirm that “women as they are” are sexy – despite what the haters say.

The incessant stream of online images has inadvertently impelled print publications to give consumers something that they won’t find. And as it happens, what they won’t find is a realistic representation of the majority of women.

Plus-size bloggers such as Nadia Aboulhosn and Gabi Gregg have earned near-celebrity status by doing what was once unthinkable: boldly challenging the notion that the narrow gates of fashion are only open to women thin enough to fit through them. Embracing fashion as a tool to show off their curves rather than a trick to diminish them, Aboulhosn, Gregg and many others are an empowering edifice of the future of fashion.

Despite its continued obsession with whiteness, thinness and youth, the fashion industry is being challenged, much in the same way that we as society are being challenged. Much has been said of the age of social media, but the truth is, never have we had a broader, more inclusive platform for debate. Facebook alone has 1.55-billion active users, this means that there are potentially a billion ways to reimagine the world, for the better. If the fashion world's crime include racism, body-shaming, repressive standards of beauty and the enforcement of the staid gender binary, it's by our consent and it's our responsibility to make such crimes so last season.