Driven by consumers, fashion media is set to have biggest impact on diversity in 2018

According to an annual report conducted by The Fashion Spot, 2017 was the first time that runways, fashion campaigns and international style magazines all featured diversity levels across age, size, race and gender at rates above 30 percent.

While a wide range of factors contributed to the increase, Jennifer Davidson, editor of The Fashion Spot, said the demand for inclusivity from consumers, driven largely by social media, has played a pivotal role in transforming an industry long known for its abundance of thin, white, young and cisgendered models.

“Social media and societal attitudes have contributed to this shift, as more consumers demand representation and social movements surrounding body-positivity, transgender visibility and anti-ageism gain steam,” Davidson said.

Fashion media sets the standard
While there was progress across the board, fashion and lifestyle media’s newfound place in the activist spotlight also played a significant role in moving the dial on consumer and brand sentiment, and is already proving it will continue to move in that direction in 2018. Just this Wednesday, Bustle announced it will ban the word “flattering” from all editorial content, a policy long held by its fashion and beauty verticals to encourage body inclusivity that it is now implementing site-wide.

“The word flattering was always some kind of sneaky way to say this outfit makes you look skinnier, which implies everyone is trying to look skinnier and should be trying to look skinnier,” said Kara McGrath, Bustle’s deputy editor of fashion and beauty. “But of course that’s not the case at all.”

The move takes a cue from publications like Allure, which prohibited the use of “anti-aging” in 2017, an effort to prevent ageism in its coverage. However, though The Fashion Spot analyzed 49 international fashion publications, it primarily examined print cover appearances, overlooking the impact of newer digital properties like Bustle, McGrath said.

Chart representing the increase of cover stars of color, courtesy of The Fashion Spot

“The Fashion Spot looks at mainstream magazines, and those companies are doing great things, but they also need to look at publications that are standing out like online-only companies,” she said. “We have the flexibility to experiment with types of content and breaking those norms. It’s those smaller players that will make the biggest impact in 2018 and beyond.”

Plus-size and gender diversity remain industry-wide challenges
Despite the increase in racial diversity, Davidson said she was disappointed by the lack of plus-size women featured on covers in 2017. According to the report, only 1 percent of the 782 covers examined featured plus-size women. While Davidson hopes chatter around plus-size fashion will continue into 2018, she noted stalled progress in this particular sector, despite the rise of icons like Ashley Graham. (Though Graham’s star has been on the rise — she was on five of the eight covers with women over size 12 — few other plus-size models have been able to find similar success.)

“The year started off strong with Ashley Graham’s cover of Vogue UK, but it didn’t prove to be the year of the curve model, as we had hoped,” she said. “ I am hopeful we’ll see more plus-size women on the runways and in print this year. From purely a business perspective, I’m constantly amazed that brands continue to ignore such a large segment of the population.”

For brands, the push toward inclusivity in marketing has been comparatively slower than increases in media and runway diversity. While there was a marked improvement in the representation of models across race and gender affiliation in 2017, advertisements particularly lagged in representation across age and size, according to a fall 2017 report from The Fashion Spot. However, thanks to the rise of niche modeling agencies in the past year like Zand Wagon, which work to cast diverse models for campaigns, brands may find more resources at their disposal to improve diversity in 2018.

But fashion media hasn’t led the charge in every category. Compared to the strides made on the runway during New York Fashion Week in September 2017, transgender and non-binary visibility in fashion media was low. Much like Ashley Graham became the face of the plus-size movement, model Hari Nef dominated transgender magazine appearances, appearing on four of five covers that included trans models.

Diverse men are also underrepresented 
In addition to a lack of visibility for transgender and non-binary models, David Yi, founder of the men’s beauty blog Very Good Light, said he feels there is a particular lack of diversity among men in the fashion and beauty industries, especially among Hispanic and Asian-American males.

“I think there was still a great lack of diversity when it came to representing more people of color in men’s advertisement campaigns,” he said. “These demographics are only growing, and the industry needs to look into how to cater to them, as well. “

Looking to the future, Yi said he anticipates the upward trend of diversity on runways and in media will continue to rise, particularly as retailers and publications recognize it as an opportunity to capitalize.

“We live in a country that is incredibly beautiful because of the breadth of diversity,” he said. “We’ve proven that inclusivity isn’t only right, but it also pays off in dividends. Here’s to seeing more people of color, and people from various gender backgrounds, sexualities and more.”

Image courtesy of Allure

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