The 2019 Fashion Industry: Inclusivity or Marketability?

The other day, I overheard an exchange of perspectives between students in my class on the current state of the fashion industry. With the amazing campaigns that we currently see from brands such as Aerie, it’s easy to believe that change is on the horizon, and that fashion is progressing towards more realistically diverse advertising. 

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This conversation reminded me of last year’s Victoria’s Secret fashion show. During the time period of the massive event, articles went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms claiming that CMO Ed Razek refuses to cast plus-sized or transgender models as it does not fit the “fantasy” show aesthetic. Although he released a follow-up statement in an effort to re-word such beliefs, the fact remains that Victoria’s Secret as a corporation has not had any interest in curating a plus-sized show since 2000.

Our generation’s “cancel culture” wasted no time with this incidence. What used to be a show that was talked about for days between girls of my age demographic became a topic almost completely undiscussed. I used to watch the show every year on the night of its premiere, texting my friends in between segments, raving over who walked in which look and who performed what song. Last year, I received absolutely no texts; I didn’t even see a single post about the event on socials unless it was coming from an angel herself.

In each of our actions and decisions in our day-to-day lives we undoubtedly encounter a conflict of motivations; intrinsic vs. extrinsic. “Do I even like this job, or am I just sitting here from nine to five for the money?” is a classic example of such cognitive dissonance.  

This inner dissension reveals itself in business as well. And what many people fail to realize nowadays is this: at the end of the day, fashion, like most other aspects of our world, is merely a business. The executives behind it are only incentivized by what will maximize profit. While it would be lovely to see more diversity on the Victoria’s Secret runway, the lack of a need to do so from a business standpoint prevents this from happening. 

It is important to be aware of the marketing strategies that surround us each and every day in the fashion industry and beyond. These curators target our dissatisfactions and insecurities as a means of increasing sales. I do not by any means undervalue the existence of body positivity and inclusivity-oriented campaigns, however, we must be conscious of a company’s genuinity in promoting such principles. Next time you see an advertisement of this nature, I encourage you to stop and ask yourself why someone pitched the idea to a room full of people in the first place.

And thus my response to those students discussing the idea in my class was this: Until every brand is promoting body positivity, diversity, and inclusivity as a result of their own personal values rather than extrinsic motivation, the fashion industry is not truly progressing. 

(And, on another final note, shoutout to Aerie for being one of those few genuine brands, and for igniting a conversation that should have been started many years ago.)

-Bebe Howell

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