Chocolate, cream cheese, strawberry, plain, sprinkled and a dozen other varieties to choose from, and that’s just bagels. Uncannily this bagel shop reflects the diversity of its customers….Blacks, Caucasian, Red Head, Asian, Freckled and so does the dating app on my phone. Sitting at a café in New York, I survey around and find myself immersed in the most diverse city in the world.
But flip through a magazine or look around at billboards on Time Square and this diversity seems to disappear. Why? I am yet to fully understand. It is ironic because fashion is by far the most non-conforming and fluid form of art with immense opportunities of self-expression. Despite this it is unable to break free from the traditional definitions of beauty.
Our myopic idea of beauty, gender identity and the unwillingness to accept people different from us becomes blatantly evident. Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren or a relatively younger H&M ignore this diversity. Rarely would you see them use a model of color. Never seen a South Asian model for Ralph Lauren and only recently did H&M include a Sikh model (for the first time) and made such a fuss about it.
You make argue why do people need this validation, why should one interfere with the vision of the designer or brand? To a certain extent you are correct. But because fashion is such a non-conformist, progressive and influential art it is very important to show the existing cultural, racial, sexual and aesthetical diversity in society, fearlessly.
It is beneficial from a business point of view, as a majority of shoppers do not necessarily fall into the set standards of attractiveness. So by embracing the diversity, brands will enhance their customer experience and loyalty. More importantly it would immensely empower the less/not represented. Why did the internet get excited when H&M used a Sikh model or when Jaden Smith broke gender norms for Louis Vuitton? Because it empowers, it acknowledges the presence and gives you the strength to embrace yourself. And fashion plays a big, big role in the entire “Be Yourself” “Embrace Who You Are” movement.
I too agree to have made this mistake. The first several times I did a photoshoot for my brand Brown Boy, I followed the norm. However recently I took a conscious decision to change this. Earlier this year I was in New York and I did a photoshoot. Most of my models were people of color who reflected cultural and aesthetic variety. One of them was a man who identifies himself as a woman and we did not want her to hide that. I was honored to photograph her in her element where she embraced my designs in her own way.
This experience gave me an understanding about someone different from me. Her stories and experiences gave an insight about the hardships and challenges one goes through and embarrassed me about how misinformed and ignorant I really was. This is another very important reason why we also need gender and sexual diversity in fashion. Most of us are either ignorant about LGBT issues or simply ignore their presence and discriminate against them. Hence even minor representation would help start a dialogue and open us towards acknowledging the existence of different people and accepting them.
I hope going forward we embrace and celebrate this diversity in creative fields such as fashion and films more often. Not caricaturishly but by signifying the beauty it represents. I am sharing some images from the photoshoot. I hope you like them and I would love to hear your feedback on this post and our work.
p.s - I don't use any dating application. That line just went so well with the writing so I had to include it. Just saying.