The LGBTQ+ Community and the Fashion Industry
By Shiva Chopra
Image via Gaylaxy Magazine
Fashion offers one of the readiest means by which any person can represent themselves, make a statement, and convey what it is that makes them and their lives unique. Fashion has blurred the boundaries of gender, embraced diversity, stirred social norms, and exemplified individuality. While LGBTQ+ individuals have historically had profound influences on the fashion industry, fashion as a whole is still far from all-inclusive, with much more space for change. The fashion industry's LGBTQ+ inclusion (or the lack of it) has been an ongoing issue that younger people are still tackling. It is now understood that intersectionality is one thing that fashion brands neglect in today's world, a place where the younger generation has emerged at the forefront of political and cultural change. The industry has always worked under the guise of being an LGBTQ+ leader, honouring and celebrating LGBTQ+ culture. Most people believe that fashion and queer culture go hand in hand. In reality, the industry is not inclusive at all.
The reality is that fashion embraces and is attracted to individuality, which has always been an expression of independence. There is space for imagination of all kinds. Even though the fashion industry is motivated by the desire to uphold a progressive reputation, how much meaningful intersectionality and representation of the LGBTQ+ and POC members of this industry is currently reflected within it? And if they receive adequate inclusion within the industry, are LGBTQ+ and POC people granted the same platform as white people? The fashion industry has always set the norm for what kind of individuals are portrayed as attractive by mass culture. Their vast influence and control over the standards of beauty are so enormous that magazine companies such as Vogue or Elle can easily launch a beauty trendy that can define an era. The immense power of these fashion publications demonstrates the transformative effect that adequate inclusion and amplification of POC and LGBTQ+ voices in the industry could have on not only the fashion world but also consumers globally.
More and more luxury brands, however, have begun to accept diversity. Now it is not rare to see models with various body types walking down the runway. The dangerous norm of the "tall, skinny, white" models is slowly beginning to decrease in the modelling industry. In the fashion industry, there has been a noticeable shift in the last five years. Tyler Mitchell photographed Beyoncé for the September issue of American Vogue, the first black Gen-Z photographer to shoot a cover in the history of the publication. In partnership with RuPaul's Drag Race winner Sasha Velour, the fashion house, Opening Ceremony, turned their Spring/Summer 2019 show into a drag show.
Despite this progress, inclusion has become a check-mark for certain businesses. Customers increasingly want the goods they purchase to align with their beliefs. Younger generations value brand transparency more than anything. As more companies make Pride promotions and as more fashion designers come out and cast POC models for their ads, so do the people who believe that this cultural revolution in the industry is just a "fad."
This season, a chief diversity officer is now fashion's hottest accessory, and brands are constantly talking about HR programmes to boost their company's inclusivity. Consumers and professionals, however, have remained fairly critical. Is that really authentic? Is their inclusion real for Queer/POCs? Or is it just a marketing tool for businesses to stop being "cancelled"?
Most companies are led by straight, white men. Consumers demand more diverse faces, but companies have not been able to respond in an appropriate manner. The Black, Brown, and Queer populations are harmed by these tokenizations of diversity and inclusion. However, many companies have been getting better and have actively taken steps towards inclusivity. There is much more progress to be made, but this significant harm and its international effect show that companies function in a new paradigm.
There is no easy fix or cosmetic solution to the fashion industry's underlying problems. The change must start from the inside to reform the structural prejudice and discrimination that has been prevalent for decades in order for the industry to be fully intersectional and inclusive. Not only will executives make their business intersectional as they allow equal access to various types of positions, but they will also create an opportunity for the industry to pioneer the spread of legitimate equality, not just the guise of equality. For the Black, Brown, and Queer people, the need for executive space and artistic forum has been long overdue and it needs to happen now.
Written by writer Shiva Chopra