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How diversity was celebrated at Graduate Fashion Week 2018


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Diversity is an increasingly important issue in fashion. Articles and data analysis by Business Of Fashion, BAZAAR and other media have increasingly covered the issues the lack of representation in this industry, including Primark's pinkwashing Pride Collection. Even the business side of fashion is coming under fire for its lack of representation.

So how did Graduate Fashion Week do in terms of gender identity, race, ethnicity, body type, social background, sexual orientation, disability and age representation - and did it break the stereotypes that so often abound in this industry? 

1. Breaking the London-centric fashion bubble

The first thing to say is that in this industry, with unpaid internships and difficulty in accessing jobs, Graduate Fashion Week is a step in the right direction. By getting people from a broad range of universities in the UK and abroad, this event has given opportunities to students from all kinds of backgrounds to present their collections – and therefore be given a fairer chance at getting a foot in the door of the industry.  

Is this enough? With a London-centric industry, it is extremely difficult for students to get internships/work experience (often unpaid) or graduate jobs. I was once told it was “such a shame” that I lived far from London. With the incredible cost of living in the capital, moving there to be “taken seriously” isn’t really an option. I’d apparently “better look for a new career”.

One interesting and new route was the sponsorship of Superdry. When we spoke to them during the event, they openly advertised their graduate jobs as a ‘non-London-based’ option at their head office in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire – making their stand just by the catwalk’s entrance quite attractive to those not based in London.


2. Models and designers – visible progress on the catwalk

On the second day of the event, at the GFW Live! Roundtable, chaired by Tamara Cincik, CEO & founder of Fashion Roundtable, the panellists gave their experience and a number struck us: Of all the designers in the industry, only 9% are from an ethnic minority background.

You’d then understand the delight that there was in seeing a diverse cast of models, both male and female, being showcased on the catwalks - with girls, in particular, embracing their natural hair and showcasing a variety of ethnicities. 

Elsbeth Carr - Arts University of Bournemouth

Amy Woods - UCA Epsom

3. International designers showcased

The following day, during another GFW Live! Talk, Eric Underwood and Hilary Alexander OBE discussed diversity in the luxury fashion industry. Eric Underwood shared his own struggles with diversity when he was a ballet dancer and as he moved into modelling, highlighting the fact that "the best way to encourage diversity is visibility".

Diversity on the GFW catwalk also came from backstage, with both UK and international student designers selected to showcase their work and to exhibit at their university stands. With 50+ international universities, this London event definitely was a global one too, broadening the opportunities of many international students.

4. Celebrating differing heritage

Many GFW designers were inspired by their own heritage, as seen in our interviews with Anna Chandler and Nadia Atique and our piece on Tihara Smith. These actions supported the fact that the UK itself is awash with different cultures, and celebrated them in their own unique ways: Tihara's collection included influences from her grandfather, who came across to the UK as part of the Windrush generation, whilst Nadia created modest wear inspired by Liverpool football team for Muslim women and Anna was inspired by her family ties to the fishing industry. 

Diversity in heritage was also celebrated during the GFW Gala. Inspired by East African culture, Evelyn Babin from UCA Epsom created a collection made of banana-leaf craft, floral cut-outs and broderie anglaise. And it caught the eyes of the Hilary Alexander Trailblazer Award judges, as she was announced the winner on the last day of the show. 

"Seeing my collection on the catwalk itself was a dream come true, but winning the award was beyond my expectations. I feel blessed and very privileged," Evelyn says.

Evelyne Babin - UCA Epsom

5. Gender neutral collections

GFW published a report regarding the prominence of gender-neutral collections this year, stating that gender-neutral design occurred regularly throughout Graduate Fashion Week.

In particular, De Montfort University's David Cottington presented a collection (pictured below) that included 'heavy tailoring and feminine influences'. The light and feminine collection featured classic menswear tailoring alongside sheer material and floral embroidery.


Picture courtesy of GFW

To conclude?

Diversity was definitely on the GFW agenda.

Did it achieve a complete representation?

It would be a ‘no’. There was an unmissable lack of size diversity, with no plus or petite range and no age (taking out the childrenswear) or disability representation on the runway.

However, without conducting a study, we can’t answer the gender identity, social background, sexual orientation, or less visible disability representation.  

But let’s not be too negative. Maybe different body types will be represented next year?

One step at a time, they say.

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